A Scaly Mammal? The Pangolin

Scaly Anteater
Image from David Brossard | Flickr
A ground Pangolin in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa

The Pangolin, often called the “scaly anteater”, is a mammal that it is incredible adapted to its environment. While it may seem like a reptile due to its hard, scaly “armor”, it is actually keratin, the same material that makes up our hair and nails. This armor serves to protect the Pangolin in times of distress as it can curl up into a tight ball like an armadillo. The armor also protects the creature from bites from its favorite food: ants. Using its huge claws, it digs apart ground and rips open ant colonies. Its long tongue can scoop ants into its mouth and maneuver in and out of the winding ant passages. In self-defense, the ants swarm the Pangolin and bite it but specialized skin flaps close its ears and a thick eyelid keep the ants out. Surprisingly, some Pangolins species are also very adept swimmers and can swim down rivers to find new sources of prey. Pangolins are also great mothers and will curl up around their babies to protect them from predators. Babies lay on their mothers’ long tails until they are about a month old when they can now start eating ants and larvae.

There are eight species of Pangolin in the world with four in Asia and four in Africa. While researching the various locations of these animals, I noticed how different species of these Pangolins have adapted to their environments. For example, Asian pangolins have thick bristles between their scales while African pangolins do not. Malayan Pangolins that live in the tropical rainforest sleep in tree hollows, while other Pangolin species dig giant burrows. The Tree Pangolin has adapted to living in trees and using its tail to swing around while the Ground Pangolin has adapted to walk on two legs because its claws are too pronounced. Scientists have also changed their minds about the taxonomy of Pangolins after new DNA testing. It was previously thought they were a member of the Xenarthra family, which includes sloths, anteaters and armadillos. Scientists now believe their closest relatives may be from the Carnivora family, which includes hyenas, wolves, and bears.

However, the Pangolin is in danger of extinction. The World Wildlife Fund says it is the most trafficked animal in the world. In some countries, its scales and meat are said to have medicinal properties and the scales are also collector’s items. More than one million documented pangolins have been taken from their homes in the wild and killed. All eight species of Pangolin are under threat and two Pangolin species in Asia are on the Critically Endangered list. Habitat loss in Asian countries is also playing a large role in the decline of these animal with up to 80% of their former homes now wiped out. Efforts have already started to end the illegal trade of Pangolins yet they are still being killed and traded underground in places like China. If we don’t make an even greater effort to save the Pangolin, it is very likely it will go extinct. If you would like to learn more information or donate to help this incredible creature, below is a link to the World Wildlife Fund.

References

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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