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11 Fascinating Pangolin Facts

©Maria Diekmann

1. Pangolin babies ride on their mother’s back by hanging onto her scales. They are born live after a gestation period of 3-4 months.

2. They are not related to anteaters, sloths or armadillos, in fact they are more closely related to carnivores.

3. Pangolins are the only mammal with scales, making up about 20% of their bodyweight. The scales are made up of keratin – the same as human hair and nails, lion claws and rhino horn.

4. There are 4 pangolin species in Africa, of which 2 live in trees and 2 live on the ground.

©African Pangolin Working Group

5. They defend themselves by rolling into a tight ball to protect their soft bellies. Their sharp-edged scales can easily cut predators and they emit a putrid fluid from anal glands to ward off predators. The name derives from the Malay word “pengguling” which means “something that roles up”.

6. Pangolins use their long sticky tongues to eat ants and termites – up to 70 million per year. They locate their meals by using their acute sense of smell and dig using their strong claws. They have no teeth and eat small pebbles to aid with digestion. Pangolins can constrict their ears and nostrils while feeding to keep insects out.

7. They have poor vision and hearing, but an excellent sense of smell.

8. All pangolins have long curved claws on their front feet, while tree pangolins also have long claws on their back feet, plus a soft pad on the tip of the tail, to assist with climbing.

9. They are solitary and predominantly nocturnal, although they do become active earlier during cold weather. Young animals are also prone to be more active during the day.

10. Pangolins do not dig their own burrows but make use of abandoned aardvark, porcupine and warthog burrows. They may also shelter in termite holes, caves, in between rocks, shrubs or piles of debris.

Pangolin at Rest
©Scott Hurd

11. Pangolins are bipedal, walking on their hind legs with the front limbs and tail held off the ground and used as a counter-balance.

Read more about pangolins below the advertisement

Africa Geographic Travel

The 4 Species of African Pangolin

Temminck’s ground pangolin Smutsia temminckii (Also known as Cape Pangolin, South African pangolin, ground pangolin and scaly anteater)


This terrestrial species occurs from southern Africa through most of East Africa to Sudan and southern Chad.
Adults grow up to 1.2m and weigh in at 19kg, but average 10-15 kg.
IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
Image ©African Pangolin Working Group


Giant ground pangolin Smutsia gigantic (Also known as giant pangolin)


This is the least common of the 2 terrestrial species and occurs in forests and forest-savannah mosaics in central and west Africa.
Adults can grow up to 1.5m and weigh 30kg.
IUCN Red List: Endangered.
Image © David R. Mills/Panthera/WCS


White-bellied pangolin Phataginus tricuspis (also known as tree pangolin)


This is a small, arboreal species. It is the most common and widespread of the two tree pangolin species, occurring widely in West and Central Africa, where it inhabits forests, dense woodlands and even secondary forests and agricultural lands
(especially oil palm plantations).
Adults are small, reaching a maximum size of 1m and weighing 1.5 – 3 kg, but typically only 1-2 kg.
IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
Image ©African Pangolin Working Group
Black-bellied pangolin Phataginus tetradactyl (also known as long-tailed pangolin)


This species is also arboreal, and is the rarest of the two tree pangolin species. It occurs in forests in Central and West Africa, and is mostly restricted to swamp forests and riparian vegetation. It is also said to be the most aquatic of the four African pangolin species, regularly taking to water to escape predators or to cross rivers.
Adults are also small, attaining a maximum size of 1.1 m and weighing 2 – 3.5 kg.
IUCN Red List: Endangered.
Image ©Peter Eimon

1. African Pangolin Working Group – Rob Bruyns and Darren Pietersen.
2. Report: IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group Conservation Action Plan compiled by Daniel W. S. Challender, Carly Waterman and Jonathan E. M. Baillie.
3. IUCN Red List.


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