Pangolins are mammals of the order Pholidota. The one extant family, Manidae, has three genera: Manis, which comprises four species living in Asia, Phataginus, which comprises two species living in Africa, and Smutsia, which comprises two species also living in Africa. Making a total of eight species.

These species range in size from 30 to 100 cm. A number of extinct pangolin species are also known.


The Chinese pangolin has a prehensile tail. image: wikipedia/verdammelt

Pangolins have large, protective keratin scales covering their skin; they are the only known mammals with this adaptation (what about armadillos?  they have plates of dermal bone instead). They live in hollow trees or burrows, depending on the species. 

Pangolins are nocturnal, and their diet consists of mainly ants and termites which they capture using their long tongues.

 They tend to be solitary animals, meeting only to mate and produce a litter of one to three offspring which are raised for about two years. 


Pangolins are threatened by hunting (for their meat and scales) and heavy deforestation of their natural habitats, and are the most trafficked mammals in the world. 

The name "pangolin" comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning "something that rolls up".

 Of the eight species of pangolin, four (Phataginus tetradactyla, P. tricuspis, Smutsia gigantea, and S. temminckii) are listed as vulnerable, two (Manis crassicaudata and M. culionensis) are listed as endangered, and two (M. pentadactyla and M. javanica) are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

What they look like

They are obvious from their, hardened, overlapping plate-like scales, which are soft on newborn pangolins, but harden as the animal matures.

 They are made of keratin, the same material of which human fingernails and tetrapod claws are made. The pangolin's scaled body is comparable to a pine cone or globe artichoke.

 They can curl up into a ball when threatened, with its overlapping scales acting as armor, while it protects its face by tucking it under its tail. The scales are sharp, providing extra defense from predators.


A pangolin curling up when surrounded by lions. image: wikipedia/Sandip kumar 

Sometimes smell like a skunk

Pangolins can also emit a noxious-smelling chemical from glands near the anus, similar to the spray of a skunk. They have short legs, with sharp claws which they use for burrowing into termite and ant mounds, as well as climbing 

They have long tongues

The tongues of pangolins are extremely long like those of the giant anteater and the tube-lipped nectar bat; the root of the tongue is not attached to their hyoid bone, but is located in the thorax between the sternum and the trachea. Large pangolins can extend their tongues as much as 40 cm , with a diameter of only 0.5 cm .


An indian Pangolin walking along. image: Sandip kumar /wikipedia

Species common names:

  •  Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)
  • Chinese pangolin(Manis pentadactyly)
  • The Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)
  • Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis)
  • The long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyl)
  •  tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspid)


  • ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
  • giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)

Source adapted from: Pangolin. (2017, March 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:26, April 24, 2017, from