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Pangolin

Mar 12, 2014

A pangolin (also referred to as a scaly anteater or trenggiling) is a small mammal covered with large armour scales. A number of extinct species are also known. A pangolin has large keratin scales covering its skin, and is the only known mammal with this adaptation. It is found naturally in tropical regions throughout Africa and Asia. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning "something that rolls up".
Ground Pangolin
Ground Pangolin

Description


The physical appearance of a pangolin is marked by large, hardened, overlapping plate-like scales. The scales, which are soft on newborn pangolins but harden as the animal matures, are made of keratin, the same material of which human fingernails and tetrapod claws are made. The pangolin's scaled body is comparable to a pine cone or globe artichoke. It can curl up into a ball when threatened, with its overlapping scales acting as armor and its face tucked under its tail. The scales are sharp, providing extra defense. The front claws are so long they are unsuited for walking, so the animal walks with its fore paws curled over to protect them. Pangolins can also emit a noxious-smelling acid from glands near the anus, similar to the spray of a skunk. Pangolins, though, are not able to spray this acid like skunks. They have short legs, with sharp claws which they use for burrowing into termite and ant mounds, as well as climbing.
Pangolin curled up into a ball
Pangolin curled up into a ball

The size of pangolins varies by species, ranging from 30 to 100 centimetres (12 to 39 in). Females are generally smaller than males.

The tongues of pangolins are extremely elongated and extend into the abdominal cavity. By convergent evolution, pangolins, the giant anteater, and the tube-lipped nectar bat all have tongues which are unattached to their hyoid bone and extend past their pharynx deep into the thorax.

Behavior


Pangolins are nocturnal animals which use their well-developed sense of smell to find insects. The long-tailed pangolin is also active by day. Other species of pangolins spend most of the daytime sleeping curled up into a ball.

Arboreal pangolins live in hollow trees, whereas the ground dwelling species dig tunnels underground, to a depth of 3.5 metres (11 ft). Pangolins are also good swimmers.

Lion trying to eat live Pangolin
Lion trying to eat live Pangolin

Diet


Pangolins lack teeth and the ability to chew. Instead, they tear open anthills or termite mounds with their powerful front claws and probe deep into them with their very long tongues. Pangolins have glands in their chests to lubricate the tongue with sticky, ant-catching saliva.

Some species, such as the tree pangolin, use their strong, prehensile tails to hang from tree branches and strip away bark from the trunk, exposing insect nests inside.
Tree Pangolin climbing
Tree Pangolin climbing

Reproduction


Gestation is 120–150 days. African pangolin females usually give birth to a single offspring at a time, but the Asiatic species can give birth from one to three. Weight at birth is 80–450 g (3–18 ounces), and the scales are initially soft. The young cling to the mother's tail as she moves about, although in burrowing species, they remain in the burrow for the first two to four weeks of life. Weaning takes place at around three months of age, and pangolins become sexually mature at two years.

Threats


Pangolins are hunted and eaten in many parts of Africa, and are one of the more popular types of bush meat. They are also in great demand in China because their meat is considered a delicacy and some Chinese believe pangolin scales have medicinal qualities. This, coupled with deforestation, has led to a large decrease in the numbers of giant pangolins. In November 2010, pangolins were added to the Zoological Society of London's list of genetically distinct and endangered mammals. Two species of pangolin are classified by the IUCN as Endangered species.

Though pangolin are protected by an international ban on their trade, populations have suffered from illegal trafficking due to beliefs in Asia that their ground-up scales can stimulate lactation or cure cancer or asthma. In the past decade there have been numerous seizures of illegally trafficked pangolin and pangolin meat in Asia. In one such incident in 2013, 10,000 kilograms of pangolin meat was seized from a Chinese vessel that ran aground in the Philippines.

Tree Pangolin
Tree Pangolin