Pangolins

Scientific name: Manis

Cape Pangolin - Manis temmincki
Cape Pangolin - Manis temmincki. Photo © David Paynter / Getty Images.

Pangolins (Manis) are a group of mammals that have large, plate-like scales covering their body. These scales are made of keratin. When pangolins curl up into a ball, they tuck their face under their tail and the scales protrude their sharp edges as an extra means of defense. Pangolins are the only mammal that has keratin scales. Pangolins also secrete a foul-smelling odor from the glands near their anus.

This secretion is similar to skunk spray.

Pangolins are also known as scaly anteaters or trenggilings. There are eight species of pangolins alive today. Pangolins are native to tropical areas of Africa and Asia.

Pangolins have a very long tongue that extends into the abdominal cavity. Their tongue is attached to their hyoid bone. Pangolins are nocturnal mammals that use their keen sense of smell to forage for food in the dark. Some species of pangolins are tree-dwelling animals that live in holes in trees. Other species dig underground burrows and tunnels. Pangolins spend the daytime hours sleeping in their burrow or in the hollow of a tree. One species of pangolin, the long-tailed pangolin, is active during the day.

Pangolins do not have any teeth and therefore cannot chew their prey. They feed on a variety of insects including ants and termites. They have strong claws which enable them to break open anthills and termite nests with ease.

Their tongue is covered in a sticky saliva that enables them to catch insect prey. The glands that produce the sticky saliva are located in their chest.

Pangolins were at one time classified with the xenarthra (a group of mammals that includes anteaters, armadillos and sloths) but genetic analysis has revealed that they are in fact more closely related to carnivores.

Classification:

Animals > Chordates > Mammals > Pangolins

The eight living species of pangolins include:

  • Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) - The Indian pangolin lives in plains, forests, grasslands and hills of India, Shri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. The species can live at high elevations, up to about 2300 meters. It tolerates dry habitats well. The Indian pangolin is a solitary pangolin species that forages on the ground at night.
  • Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) - The Chinese pangolin is a burrowing pangolin that inhabits India, Nepal, Myanmar, Indochina, Bhutan, Taiwan, China and Bangladesh. The species digs deep burrows in the ground using its strong, clawed front feet.
  • Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) - The Sunda pangolin lives in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Sunda pangolins are arboreal pangolins that prefer primary, secondary and scrub forests.
  • Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) - The Philippine pangolin inhabits the Philippine Islands. It lives in forests and grasslands.
  • Giant pangolin (Manis gigantea) - The giant pangolin inhabits equatorial Africa from West Africa to Uganda, including Tanania and Kenya. It inhabits a variety of habitats including savanna, rainforests and other forests. It prefers lower elevations. It feeds on ants and termites.
  • Ground pangolin (Manis temmincki) - The ground pangolin lives in Africa. Of the four African pangolins, the ground pangolin is the only one whose range extends into southern and easter parts of the continent. The ground pangolin is nocturnal and terrestrial. It inhabits savannas, open habitats, and sparse woodlands. It feeds on termites and ants.
  • Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) - The tree pangolin lives in Africa in a range that stretches from Guinea, Sierra Leone and into West and Central Africa. The tree pangolin is, as its name implies, arboreal. It is nocturnal and lives in lowland tropical moist forests.
  • Long-tailed pangolin (Manis tetradactyla) - The long-tailed pangolin has a very long tail yet it is paradoxically the smallest species of pangolin. It inhabits west central Africa.