Scaly Anteater or Small Dinosaur?

Indian Pangolin Photo by Ansar Kan
Indian Pangolin Photo by Ansar Kan

This lovely creature is the Indian pangolin also known as the thick-tailed pangolin. The size of pangolins varies by species, ranging from 12 to 39 inches. In all species, females are generally smaller than males. In fact, male Indian pangolins can be up to 90% heavier than their female counterparts.  Most are solitary and noctural.

There are 8 extant species of pangolin: the Indian Pangolin, Philippine Pangolin Giant Pangolin, Ground Pangolin, Tree Pangolin, Long-tailed Pangolin, Chinese Pangolin and Sunda Pangolin. They all look like small dinosaurs.

Ground Pangolin in Kalahari Desert of South Africa. Credit: Natural History Media/Alamy
Ground Pangolin in Kalahari Desert of South Africa. Credit: Natural History Media/Alamy
Long Tail Pangolin in the Democratic Republic of Congo Credit: Frans Lanting/Alamy
Long Tail Pangolin in the Democratic Republic of Congo Credit: Frans Lanting/Alamy
Malayan Pangolin mother and young in Southeast Asia. Credit: Minden Pictures
Malayan Pangolin mother and young in Southeast Asia. Credit: Minden Pictures
This is a ground pangolin curling into a ball for protection.
This is a ground pangolin curling into a ball for protection.

As you probably noticed, the pangolin has large keratin (the same substance as horns, fingernails, and hair) scales covering its skin, the only known mammal with this adaptation. These continue growing throughout their entire life, and the scales of these critters comprise about 20% of their total body weight. They are the only known mammals with this adaptation.

Here's a ground pangolin showing off his long sticky tongue!
Here’s a ground pangolin showing off his long sticky tongue!

When the pangolin’s tongue is fully extended, it can be up to 16 inches longer than its entire body length! Pangolins use these long tongues to eat their favorite foods, termites and ants. Pangolins’ insatiable appetite for insects gives them an important role in their ecosystem: pest control. Estimates indicate that one adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually. Pangolins have special muscles that seal their nostrils and ears shut, protecting them from attacking insects. They also have special muscles in their mouths, which prevent ants and termites from escaping after capture.

As a result of increasing threats to pangolins, mainly in the form of illegal, international trade in pangolin skin, scales, and meat, these species have received increasing conservation attention in recent years.  Sadly each species is now threatened with extinction.

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