by Jo Carol Hebert
What is the Pangolin? Check it out with the Pangolin ABCs!
A is for Asia and Africa. Eight species of Pangolin live on these two continents.
- Four in Asia: The Indian, Philippine, Malayan, and Chinese Pangolins.
- Four in Africa: The Ground, Giant Ground, White-bellied Tree, A is also for and the Black-bellied long-tail Pangolins.
A is also for Anteater. The Pangolin is also called the ‘scaly Anteater and the Armored Anteater.
B is for Babies. They are called ‘ pangopups.’ They are born with soft scales that later harden. They are born with their eyes open but cannot walk for several weeks. Because they are a mammal, they drink their mother’s milk for the first two months. In one month, they begin to eat insects.
C is for Colors. Pangolins within species range from gray, olive, brown, golden, or yellow-brown.
D is for Dig. They have five sharp-clawed toes on each foot. The middle three toes are super-long and curved for digging into ant colonies and termite mounds. Some dig burrows to sleep or give birth to their pangopups.
E is for Eating Habits. Pangolins eat only ants and termites. They swallow sand and small stones that grind the insects for digestion.
F is for Fear. When a Pangolin is afraid, he will wrap his scaly tail around his body and roll up in a tight ball.
G is for Gestation. A mammal trait meaning how long the embryo is carried in the mother. The Pangolin carries the little baby for 70-140 days before birth.
H is for Habitats. Pangolins live in a variety of biomes wherever there are ants and termites. These insects are found in the savannah grasslands, floodplains, dry and sandy areas, rocky slopes, tropical and swamp forests.
I is for Insectivore. The Pangolin is an insectivore. They eat insects. Carnivores eat meat. An insectivore is a kind of carnivore. Herbivores eat plants. Omnivores eat meat and plants.
J is for Job. The Pangolins of the wild have an important job to do – eating insects. With Pangolins being decimated in the wild, imagine a science fiction scenario: if there were no Pangolins to keep down the insect population -could the ants and termites take over the world!
K is for Keratin. A hard brown substance of protein that makes up the scales of the Pangolin. It is the same protein that makes human nails and rhino horns. Keratin scales provide an armor of protection from animal predators like wild cats, hyenas, leopards, and pythons.
L is for Lifespan. Pangolins can live 12-20 years in captivity. Studies of the Pangolin have been only recently and it is difficult to determine their lifespan in the wild.
M is for Math. Depending on the species, Pangolins are from 2 to 4 feet long and weigh 12-40 pounds. The record weight for a Giant Ground Pangolin is over 70 lbs! The little Philippine Pangolin eats 90 times a night. Each meal lasts one minute. The Pangolin’s tongue can be 16” long.
N is for Name. Pangolin is a Malay word from Indonesia. ‘Pengguling’ meaning, ‘something that rolls up’.
O is for Odor Glands. Like a skunk, they have odor glands that release a smelly fluid for defense.
P is for Pangolin Facts. They are good swimmers. Pangolins are nocturnal and solitary. They have a humorous gait (way of walking). They can walk on all four appendages. But, to protect their digging claws, they revert upright to their hind legs, with forearms dangling, like a little T-Rex.
P is also for Prehensile Tail. They have a semi-flexible prehensile tail that can wrap around a tree branch for climbing. Monkeys and opossums have very flexible prehensile tails for hanging upside down from branches.
P is also for Peculiar. The Pangolin is peculiar (strange) because it is the only mammal in the world with scales. It is grouped in the family with the sloths and armadillos. But the Pangolin really has no close ancestor and doesn’t fit in any family. He is his own unique little critter.
P stands for Poachers. The Pangolin’s most dangerous predator is the human being. Poachers – illegal hunters – kill tens of thousands each year to sell for Pangolin products, including restaurant meat, folk medicines, designer clothes, and jewelry.
Q is for Quiet. The quiet, shy, reclusive, mammal is a very important, ecological little creature. Their presence in an ecosystem controls the ant and termite population.
R is for Roll up. This is an effective defense that discourages predators. This trick also protects its soft underside. They will wrap their bodies around their babies to protect them. Unfortunately, this docile defense makes it easy for poachers to just reach down and pick them up for the kill.
S is for Scales. This armor of the Pangolin is what makes the species so unique. The hard, overlapping, plate-like scales cover their back and tails. The scales are layered like a pine cone with hair in between. Their stomach, face, and neck are soft and smooth.
T is for Tongue and Teeth. The Pangolin tongue is a remarkable tool. It is thick, strong, sticky, gluelike, elastic, and very long. (sometimes longer than their entire body). It can snake deep into insect tunnels and scoop out its dinner. Muscles seal off the eyes and long snout so that ants and termites can’t get up in there. The Pangolin has no teeth.
U is for Ultra. The Pangolin has ultra good hearing and a sense of smell. However, their vision is poor.
V is for Vulnerable & Very threatened. These harmless Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world. In April 2019, conservationist authorities recovered bags containing fourteen tons (28,000 pounds) of Pangolin scales This is equivalent to 36,000 Pangolins killed for one shipment.
W is for World Pangolin Day. The 3rd Saturday in February is designated as World Pangolin Day. This observation is to create awareness of this adorable creature and encourage financial support for research.
“X” is for Extinction. All Pangolins are endangered of extinction in the future. Although protected internationally, Pangolins are literally being “eaten up” by consumers of their meat. The demand for their scales to make medicine and clothes continues to contribute to the demise of the Pangolin.
Y is for Young Pangolins. They are quite content to recline on their mother’s back and tail while she goes about her business. They are up high and can safely observe their new world. But at six months, the ride is over and they must join the everyday survival world of the Pangolin.
Z is for Zoos. These areas may be an answer to conserving the diminishing Pangolin in the wild and in captivity. Currently, zoos that have Pangolins are: The Brookfield Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, Turtleback Zoo, Memphis Zoo, Columbus Zoo, and the Gladys Porter Zoo.
These and other zoos around the world that house Pangolins give us opportunities to see wild animals in compassionate captivity. The dedicated scientists and caretakers of these public observatories are happy to educate us to the vital necessity of saving our endangered Pangolin and all diminishing wildlife.
What do you think about the peculiar Pangolin?