Fascinating Facts: Pangolins

As the world’s most trafficked animal, these prehistoric-like creatures are not only unique in appearance, but also very reclusive. A sighting of a pangolin in the wild is a rare experience and for this reason, many of us know very little about this species.

So here are some unique facts about pangolins.

  1. The word ‘pangolin’ derives from the Malay word ‘penggulung’, which means ‘one that rolls up’. When pangolin’s feel threatened, they roll into a ball that is basically impenetrable by predators.
  2. Pangolins are also known as scaly anteaters and their bodies are completely covered in scales. These scales make up about 20% of their body weight.
  3. There are 8 different species of pangolin that inhabit Asia and Africa. Four of the species are Asian: Chinese, Malayan (or Sunda), Indian and Palawan; while the others are African: Tree pangolin, Giant ground pangolin, Cape pangolin and Long-tailed pangolin.
  4. Pangolins walk on their hind legs due to the length of their front claws that they use for foraging.

© Wendy Panaino

  1. The main diet of pangolins is ants, termites and insects. They consume up to 200,000 insects a day.
  2. Pangolin tongues are often longer than their bodies — even up to 40cm. Whilst pangolin don’t have teeth, they use their long sticky tongue to gather up to insects.
  3. Pangolins are nocturnal and seek out termite mounds and ants nests through their strong sense of smell.
  4. Pangolins start breeding from about 2 years of age and the gestation period is between 60–150 days. When born, the young travel around on the base of their mother’s tail.
  1. Pangolin scales are made of keratin (the same substance as human nails). Pangolin scales are in high demand in Asian markets for their perceived medicinal properties. Scales sell for up to $3,000 per kilo on the illegal black market and live pangolin can sell for even more.
  2. All eight species of pangolin are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of animals threatened with extinction.