Pangolin fact file

Learn more about the only mammal that's entirely covered in scales...

30th August 2023

Our world is full of amazing animals, habitats, and ecosystems – but the eye-catching creatures we’re about to discover are in danger and need our help…

Animal Friends Insurance has teamed up with Tusk to create this fun fact file all about pangolins!

While they may have an unusual appearance, we believe the pangolin is beautiful.

What are Pangolins?

Pangolins are a type of mammal.

In fact, pangolins are the only mammals who are entirely covered in scales!

Where are they from?

There are eight species of pangolin found across Asia and Africa.

Asian pangolins include the:

  • Chinese pangolin – Critically Endangered.
  • Sunda pangolin – Critically Endangered.
  • Philippine pangolin – Critically Endangered.
  • Indian pangolin – Endangered.

African pangolins include the:

  • White-bellied pangolin –Endangered.
  • Giant pangolin – Endangered.
  • Ground pangolin – Vulnerable.
  • Black-bellied pangolin – Vulnerable.

Although most pangolins like to live on the ground, the black-bellied pangolin likes to climb trees!

What’s the average life span of a Pangolin?

Although there isn’t much data to suggest a pangolin’s lifespan in the wild, pangolins in captivity have been known to live for up to 20 years!

What do Pangolins look like?

We would describe the pangolin as a part-pinecone, part-anteater, part-woodlouse hybrid, possibly even part-dragon–a mythical creature from a fantasy novel.

How does it feel to hold one?

Pangolins are sometimes mistaken for being reptiles because they’re usually covered from head to toe in large, geometric scales made of keratin (the same material that makes up your fingernails!) which reportedly is so tough that even predators such as lions can’t bite through it. But as mammals, pangolins are warm-blooded creatures, and their unique scales harden over time.

You may also want to think twice about approaching a pangolin. Their shy nature means that if they ever feel threatened, they’ll curl up into a ball for protection and release a stinky fluid from a gland at the base of their spiky tails to keep the predator away – much like a skunk!

How big are Pangolins?

At around 30-90cm in size, pangolins range from about the size of a standard toaster to the size of an average single oven.

They can weigh 5-27kg, meaning pangolins can vary from the approximate weight of an adult cat to around the weight of a golden retriever.

Also, a pangolin’s tongue can be up to 40cm long! So, a pangolin’s tongue is slightly longer than a standard bowling pin.

How fast are they?

Although they normally amble along on all-fours, pangolins can move up to 5km an hour (around 3mph) when needed.

What do Pangolins eat?

Pangolins are carnivores, so they eat meat, but they don’t have teeth and cannot chew. Instead they use their long tongues to scoop up insects.

Known as the ‘scaly anteater’, the pangolin usually eats ants and termites – though sometimes, pangolins will eat bigger insects, too.

Are Pangolins nocturnal?

Yes, pangolins are mainly active at night.

Do they mate for life?

Pangolins do not mate for life.

Male pangolins will fight over females, though the winning male will enjoy a fleeting 3-5 day ‘relationship’ with a female before moving on.

The females will only have up to 1-2 offspring per year.

Do they live in groups?

No, pangolins are solitary animals.

Are Pangolins intelligent?

They are highly intelligent. Thanks to their skill for being mysterious, pangolins are known as ‘mischievous escape artists’ and make it difficult for scientists to study them!

Why are Pangolins important?

Pangolins regulate insect populations in their environments. They are known as ‘guardians of the forest’ because pangolins protect forests from termite destruction!

What are the risks if they become extinct?

Due to the important role they play in regulating insect populations, the extinction of pangolins would have a devastating impact on the environment.

A single pangolin can consume a whopping 70 million ants and termites per year!

How many Pangolins are there?

Currently, it’s estimated there are only 50,000 pangolins in existence today – which makes them one of the most endangered species in the world.

What is their rate of decline?

It’s predicted that pangolin numbers will decrease by a devastating 80% within three generations (by 2040).

According to the Tusk Trust, it’s estimated that at least one pangolin is killed every hour – a heart-breaking statistic. If they are continually hunted at this rate, it is believed pangolins could become extinct within the next 10 years.

Why are they declining?

Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked animal in the world. They are threatened by the illegal wildlife trade and poaching because there’s a belief that pangolin scales have magical healing properties. There’s also a high demand for pangolin meat.

Sadly, pangolins are suffering from habitat loss, too.

Fun Pangolin facts from Tusk 

  1. The word ‘pangolin’ comes from ‘penggulung’, which is a Malay word meaning ‘roller’ – because pangolins roll into a ball for self-defence.
  2. Pangolin babies are called ‘pangopups’ (how cute?!) and will hang (ride) on their mother’s back until they’re weaned at around three months old.
  3. They usually travel on all-fours, but when they want to run, pangolins go up onto their two feet and use their tails for support to move more quickly!

Who is the Tusk?

Tusk was created over 30 years ago, to support conservation projects and communities across Africa. 

Many of Tusk’s projects aim to protect endangered species, too.

For more information, visit Tusk's charity page.

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