Pangolins, otherwise known as “scaly anteaters” are mammals found in Africa and Asia. They are strange-looking scaled creatures that, on first glance, appear to be related to anteaters and armadillos. Their similar appearance is most likely due to a process known as convergent evolution. This process allows very similar animals to evolve in different areas of the world, quite separate from one another, because they fill the same ecological niche in their respective areas. That is why pangolins are not related to armadillos and anteaters, despite their appearance. They are actually more closely related to sloths.
Pangolins are toothless. They have long tongues, up to two feet long in very large pangolins, which are attached to their hipbones internally. They have no external ears, but have sufficient hearing. Their sense of smell is acute, but their ability to see appears to be limited. Pangolin size ranges from about three feet long and roughly three pounds to nearly six feet long and up to 70 pounds. They can walk on all fours or just their hind legs. They can run at speeds up to three miles per hour on their hind legs. They have claws at the end of each limb. The tails of pangolins that live in trees are prehensile.
Overlapping scales cover the pangolin’s entire body, excepting their narrow heads, inside of their limbs and their underbellies. When these animals feel threatened, they curl up into a tight ball so their scales can protect them fully. It is difficult to force open this ball once the animal has curled up. Not that you would want to do so, considering the fact that their scales can be used to cut predators. The animals have muscles that can wiggle their sharp-edged scales in a cutting motion. Anything that gets between those scales is in danger of slicing open.
Pangolins are found in forests and grasslands. Those that live in the forest nest in trees. Those that live on the ground dig burrows for shelter. They always live near a water source and they typically live alone. However, some male pangolins will share a burrow with their mate and offspring.
Female pangolins gestate for four to five months and usually give birth to one offspring at a time. Babies are about six inches long at birth and weigh about 12 ounces. Their scales are present at birth, but are soft for the first day. By the third day, their scales are hard. Baby pangolins are weaned when they are three or four months old. They begin eating termites when they are about one month old. When pangolins are no longer nursing, their diet will consist of termites and ants, almost exclusively.
Pangolins, like so many animals, are threatened by humankind. Their scales are used in alternative medicine practices and clothing. Instead of enjoying the strange appearance of these animals in their natural habitat, some people prefer to enjoy them on shoes and purses. Unfortunately, these habits do not currently appear to be changing. Luckily for the pangolin, their numbers are still high enough to support healthy populations, despite this risk.
Pangolin, retrieved 11/1/10, awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/pangolin
What is a pangolin?, retrieved 11/1/10, pangolin.com/PangolinPic.html