Pangolins are scaly mammals that belong to the order Pholidota. They are also known as scaly anteaters. One of their extant family is Manidae which has three genera. They are Manis, Phataginus, and Smutsia. Manis consists of four species that are found in Asia, whereas Phataginus and Smutsia include two species each, all of which are found in the sub-Saharan region in Africa. The size of the pangolin species approximately ranges from about 30 cm to 100 cm (in inches, it ranges from 12 inches to 39 inches). Several pangolin species that have been extinct are also known.
Pangolins have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin which has a material that is very much like the one in our fingernails and toenails. They can live in hollow trees or burrows depending on their type. These species are nocturnal, and they mainly feed on ants and termites that get captured with their long tongues.
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Pangolin Information and Description
The physical appearance of pangolins is marked by large hardened plate-like scales that overlap each other. These scales are soft in the newborns but, they harden as the animals grow up. These scales are made up of keratin, the same material which makes the human fingernails, toenails, and tetrapod claws. These scales are very different from the scales that we find in reptiles in structure and composition. A pangolin’s scaled body is pretty similar to a pine cone structure. Pangolins usually tend to curl themselves up into a ball when they sense a threat, and their scales act as armour, while they protect their faces by tucking it under their tail. They have sharp scales which provide them with extra protection from their predators.
Pangolins can emit a chemical that has a very noxious smell from a gland near their anus that is very similar to the spray of a skunk. Pangolins have short legs and sharp claws which are used by them for burrowing into ant and termite mounds and for climbing.
Pangolins have tongues that are exceptionally long and are very similar to those of the giant anteater and the tube-lipped nectar bat. The root of their tongue is in the thorax between the sternum and the trachea, and not attached to the hyoid bone. Pangolins which are large in size can lengthen their tongue as much as 40 cm, with a diameter of only about 0.5 cm.
The pangolin species are insectivorous animals. Their diet consists of ants and termites mostly and sometimes can be supplemented by other insects, like larvae. They are pretty particular and will tend to consume only one or two species of insects even when they have different varieties of insects available to them. Each day a pangolin roughly consumes about 140 to 200 grams of insects. Pangolins are said to be one of the chief regulators of termite populations in their habitat.
Pangolins have very poor eyesight and lack teeth. They mainly rely on their sense of hearing and smell. They also have other features which help them to capture and eat their food. They use their strong front legs to tear into termite mounds. They also have a sturdy structure. Their front claws are powerful, and they help them dig into trees, ground, and vegetation for food. They use their long tongues to capture these insects.
The tongue and stomach of a pangolin are structured ideally for obtaining insects, and it also helps in their digestion. Their saliva is sticky which makes their prey stick to their tongues even more easily while they are hunting through insect tunnels. Due to the presence of no teeth, they are incapable of chewing food. However, sometimes when they are searching for food, they tend to ingest some stones which accumulate in their stomachs. This helps them to grind up ants. This part of their stomach is called the gizzard that is covered in keratinous spines.
Some Facts on Reproduction in Pangolins
Gestation periods are generally different when it comes to different species of pangolins and usually range anywhere from 70 to 140 days. Asiatic pangolin species generally give birth to one to three offspring at a time, while the African pangolins give birth only to a single offspring. The length of the offspring at birth averages about 150 millimetres while the weight ranges from anywhere between 80 to 450 grams. The scales are known to be soft and white at birth. It is only after several days of the offspring maturing that the scales turn dark and hard and start resembling the scales of an adult pangolin. In the initial stages, the mother takes care of the offspring and stays with it in the burrow. The offspring are often known to hang on to the tail of the mother while the mother moves about.
In the case of burrowing species, though, the babies usually reside in the burrow for the first two to four weeks of their lives. After a month, they leave the burrow for the first time, and they do so riding on their mother's backs. Weaning usually begins when the babies become around three months old, and this process usually involves babies starting to prey and eat other insects for food. By the time the pangolins reach the age of two years, they get considered to be sexually developed and are thus deserted by the mother.
Pangolins are known to have quite varied habitats that range from tropical forests to Savannah Grasslands. They also make their habitats in areas of cultivation and thick grasses. They are generally known to live in hollow tree trunks or burrows. Pangolins are generally characterized as either arboreal Pangolins or terrestrial Pangolins. These mammals are known to be nocturnal and every species is recognized as competent swimmers across short distances.
Pangolins which are arboreal live in hollow trees whereas the ground-dwelling ones dig tunnels to a depth of 3.5 m. Terrestrial forms of Pangolins are known to live in burrows. It has been found that the depth of a burrow can be huge and a full-grown adult human being can crawl inside it and stand high. These mammals find their prey mainly on termites but they also love eating ants and other different insects.
Threats Faced By Pangolins
Pangolins find a huge application in orthodox Chinese Medicine in the southern parts of China and also in Vietnam. This is because their scales are thought to have high medicinal chemistry. They also face huge demand because their meat is considered exquisite. This has led to pangolins becoming a very big prey to poaching and hence becoming the most trafficked animal in the world. Hundreds of thousands of pangolins are believed to be trafficked every single year to China and Vietnam. Along with deforestation, this reason has lessened the number of pangolins to a huge extent. Overhunting has led to species such as Manis pentadactyla face commercial extinction in certain parts of the world. Every species of the pangolin (eight) has been classified as threatened by the IUCN, while three species have been assessed as critically endangered. Pangolins have been registered under Appendix I of CITES, which states that international trade of the animal is prohibited except it is for any non-commercial use and only if proper permission gets granted.
Conservation of Pangolins
With threats at an all-time high when it comes to illegal poaching of Pangolins, the attention to their conservation has reached new heights in recent years. "Scaling Up Pangolin Conservation" was launched in July of 2014 by IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group as an initiative to strengthen every aspect of the conservation of these mammals. Special importance is given in tackling the illegal poaching and trafficking of these mammals while this organization also helps in educating the world in its swerve to save this endangered species. Financial Intelligence Gathering has the potential of becoming a vital key in stopping illegal activities. However, it often fails to gather any particular notice within itself.
Innumerable attempts have been made for Pangolins to be bred in captivity. However, their very diverse habitats and super strict insect only diet has meant these efforts have often been fruitless. Scientists in the present world have been able to create and improve artificial habitats that give these people hope to breed Pangolins in captivity.
Pangolins are scaly anteaters that belong to the order Pholidota. They are insectivorous animals that generally feed ants and termites. Pangolins which use their well-developed sense of smell to find their food are mainly nocturnal. The long-tailed pangolin is usually active by the day. On the other hand, the other pangolin species spend most of their daytime sleeping and curled up into a ball. Pangolins are generally companionless animals and tend to only meet at the time of mating. They are good swimmers too.
Did You Know?
Pangolins are species that tend to be solitary in nature. They meet only to mate and produce little ones who are raised by them for about two years.
Pangolins have sharp scales that provide them with extra defense from predators.
The meat and scales of pangolin are used in traditional Chinese medicine because of which they are threatened a lot by poaching. They are also threatened because their natural habitats get destroyed due to continuous deforestation. Due to all these reasons, they are the most trafficked mammal in the world.
According to January 2020, there have been eight species of pangolin whose conservative status has been recorded in the threatened tier. Three of them have been critically endangered, three have been endangered, and two have been vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Pangolins are good swimmers.
WFF is working in Asian and African countries to protect pangolins and other species from wildlife crime. They are actively trying to reduce illegal products which led to the hunting down of pangolins in China and Vietnam. They are also helping the government mount a strong defense against the poaching crisis.