10 fascinating facts about the pangolin

The pangolin holds one of the most undesirable titles imaginable: that of the world’s most trafficked animal.

The scaly anteater’s body parts are sold in China and Vietnam as a delicacy or are used for their mythical healing properties. The beautiful pangolin is now so endangered that it has been put under the protection of international law.

In recognition of these magnificent and needlessly endangered creatures, Rhino Walking Safaris have put together a list of ten fascinating facts about the pangolin.

1. The hard, overlapping scales of the pangolin are actually made of keratin, which is the same substance found in our nails and hair. The scales continue to grow throughout their life.

2. The pangolin does not have teeth but uses a thick, strong and sticky tongue to catch its food. The pangolin’s tongue is longer than its head and body when extended – it is attached at its pelvis and last pair of ribs, and the rest of it is stored in its chest cavity.

3. Their stomach has keratinous spines projecting into its interior. Small ingested stones accumulated in the stomach help to mash and grind prey, thus working in much the same manner as a bird’s gizzard.

4. Pangolins are capable swimmers and, according to Save Pangolins, “while some pangolin species such as the African ground pangolin (Manis temmincki) are completely terrestrial, others, such as the African tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis), are adept climbers, using their claws and semi-prehensile tails to grip bark and scale trees.”

5. When threatened, they curl up into a tight ball and may also emit a noxious acid from glands near the anus.

6. The lifespan of a pangolin in the wild is unknown as they are shy creatures and are, therefore, quite difficult to study. However, some have been recorded to live as long as 20 years in captivity.

7. Adult pangolins are like little hermits, preferring to live a solitary life rather than in pairs or families.

8. Pangolins are nocturnal animals.

9. Pangolins eat insects and it is estimated that they can eat up to 70 million insects a year. Save Pangolins also explains that they “have special muscles that seal their nostrils and ears shut, protecting them from insects. They also have special muscles in their mouths which prevent ants and termites from escaping after capture.”

10. Mother pangolins keep their young in burrows until they are old enough to ride on their mother’s tail. The mother curls up snugly around the baby pangolin at night or if she senses danger.

Image via David Brossard / Wildlife Alliance / cc

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