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Interesting Facts about Pangolins

Raksha Kulkarni
Pangolins are some of the very less known animals. These small, scaly animals are found in Asia and Africa but are rarely seen. Their conservation status is "Endangered". These creatures are interesting in their own way. Here are some facts about them.

Quick Fact!

Sandslash and Sandshrew are two Pokemon characters whose looks were inspired by pangolins. Their appearance is very similar, just check their scaly upper parts and bare underparts and mouth.
Are you a person who likes to sleep for the whole day and party all night? Are you someone who likes to hide if caught in an awkward situation, or someone who loves the idea of a solitary life? If yes, then probably you are a pangolin.
Well, jokes apart, pangolins are like that. They are solitary mammals that are nocturnal. They love hanging out on trees and curling up in their own world. Maybe you're hearing the name pangolin for the first time or maybe all you know is that it refers to an animal.
To be precise, it is a mammal that looks like an anteater or an armadillo. But recent studies say that these are more related to cheetahs and giant pandas. They have overlapping scales on their body and tail, which actually look similar to artichokes.
The name "pangolin" comes from the Malay word pengguling, which means "something that rolls up". This behavior is the most noticed, but there's so much more! Here are some interesting information on pangolins.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Eutheria
Superorder: Laurasiatheria
Order: Pholidota
Family: Manidae


There are eight species, which belong to different genera, viz., Manis, Phataginus, and Smutsia. Here are the names, scientific names, and the IUCN status of the species.

Asian pangolins

Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) - Critically Endangered
Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) - Critically Endangered
Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) - Endangered
Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) - Endangered

African pangolins

Cape or Temminck's Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) - Vulnerable
White-bellied or Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) - Vulnerable
Giant Ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) - Vulnerable
Black-bellied or Long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) - Vulnerable



A pangolin is known for its yellowish brown body that is covered with large, hard, and overlapping scales. These scales are made of keratin.
The scales are sharp and they work as a defense mechanism for a pangolin. The scales cover the most of its body, except its face and underparts. Its undersides are covered with soft skin and fur. Some species like the Asian pangolins have thick bristles emerging between the scales. Just like our hair and nails, the scales keep growing throughout their lives.


It has a conical head and jaws with no teeth. Also, it has a long and sticky tongue which is used to eat the termites in cavities. Its tongue can be longer than its whole body and is attached near its pelvis.
It has short legs and sharp claws which help it burrow or climb trees, depending on the species. Each paw has 5 toes and the forefeet have 3 curved and long claws. The size varies to a great extent, according to the species. The size ranges from 12 - 40 inches (30 - 100 cm). It can weigh in the range of 3.5 - 73 lbs.
The difference between males and females is clearly seen. The males are much larger and hence heavier than the females. In the Indian species, males can be almost 90% heavier than the females.

Range and Habitat

Four species are found in Asia and four are found in Africa, to the south of the Sahara Desert. The Indian pangolin, Chinese/Formosan pangolin, Malayan/Sunda pangolin, and the Palawan pangolin are found in Asia. The Cape/Ground pangolin, Tree pangolin, Giant pangolin, and Long-tailed pangolin are the species found in Africa.
These creatures have varied habitats, from forests to grasslands. It all depends on the extensive availability of ants and other termites.
Some terrestrial species prefer deep burrows for nesting and sleeping. These burrows have circular chambers, which can sometimes be large enough for a human to fit in. Other species like the Malayan pangolin prefer sleeping in tree hollows and forks.


The majority of their diet constitutes ants and termites. Sometimes, they may also eat bee larvae, worms, crickets, or flies. They are voracious eaters and it is estimated that one adult may eat more than 70 million insects in a year.


These are solitary mammals and are very secretive, which is the reason behind such less research on them.
It is said that they are primarily nocturnal, but some species are also seen foraging in the daytime. They have very poor vision but an excellent sense of smell, which helps them find their prey.
They have semi-prehensile tails, which help them in hanging on trees, with only tails holding the tree. These mammals mark their territory by spraying urine or scattering feces.
They can also run quite fast and are good swimmers. Some completely terrestrial species are exceptions, which are perfect only in burrowing or climbing. They also have a special gland that produces smelly secretions, like a skunk. The only difference is that pangolins cannot spray it.
Pangolins are most known for their ability to roll into a ball, when they're threatened. They do this to protect their underparts and their face. The rolling confuses the predator. Also, the sharp scales can easily cut through the predator's flesh.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Pangolins are normally solitary and might only meet for mating. They reach sexual maturity at the age of two. The mating happens once a year, mostly in the summer or autumn months. Males mark their territory by feces or urine, and the females track and follow the scents to the males.
The gestation period range as per the species. For the Indian pangolin it is of 65 - 70 days, whereas the Cape and Tree pangolins have a gestation period of 139 days. Generally, only one offspring is born. But, two or three are also reported, especially in the Asian species.
When a young one is born, it is only 6 inches long and will weigh only 0.75 lbs. The scales are soft and pale in color. The hardening of the scales starts after the second day. The young ones are nurtured by their mothers, in the burrows. They are nursed for almost 3 - 4 months. If there's any danger, mothers wrap their body around the young ones.
The young ones start eating ants after a month, after their birth. While the mother has to feed herself, the baby goes with her while riding on the tip of her tail or back (depends on the species).

Predators and Conservation

Lions, tigers, and humans are the only known predators. Out of which, humans pose the greatest threat because they hunt down these mammals for meat. Pangolin meat is devoured in places like China and Vietnam, and has become a huge money-making business. Also, they are hunt for their scales, which are used in medicine or for making armors.
All eight species fall under the Vulnerable to Critically Endangered categories. These species are protected under national and international laws.

Some Other Facts

These mammals have special muscles which seal their ears and nostrils, thus protecting them from the rushing insects. They also have different muscles inside the mouth, that prevent their prey from escaping. Pangolins don't have teeth so they can't chew their food. Also, they may ingest small stones which help in grinding and digesting their prey.