9 amazing pangolin facts

Discover fascinating facts about ‘scaly anteaters’. 

A pangolin foraging in sand

A pangolin foraging in sand © Daryl Balfour / Getty


1. The pangolin’s closest relatives are carnivores, but they are the only mammals that are covered in scales. 

2. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, just like our finger nails, and make up 20 per cent of their body weight.

3. The word ‘pangolin’ comes from the Malay word ‘penggulung’, which means ‘one that rolls up’. When it is threatened a pangolin will curl itself into a tight ball, which is impenetrable to predators. 


A Cape pangolin (also known as Temminck's ground pangolin) curled up in a ball © Nigel Dennis / Getty


4. The mammal can consume up to 20,000 ants a day. That’s about 73 million ants a year!

5. Pangolins can close their ears and nostrils using strong muscles. This helps protect them from ant attacks. 

6. They have long, sticky tongues, which are often longer than their body and attached near its pelvis and last pair of ribs. If a pangolin fully extends its tongue, it is longer than the animal’s head and body! 

7. Pangolins don't have teeth, so they can’t chew. Instead, they have keratinous spines in their stomach and swallow stones that help them grind up their food in much the same manner as a bird’s gizzard.

8. There are eight pangolin species, four Asian and four African - though fossil evidence suggests that they evolved in Europe. They are all threatened species and listed in the IUCN Red List as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. 

9. Pangolins are hunted for meat, for use in traditional medicine and as fashion accessories. The large-scale illegal trade in Asian pangolins is drastically driving down their numbers. 


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