10 Dazzling Facts About Pangolins
The pangolin looks like a cross between an iguana, an anteater, and a roly-poly. What's the deal with this armored, burrowing creature? Here are 10 facts you might not know about pangolins.
1. They walk like dinosaurs.
Pangolin paws are great for digging, but not so efficient for walking. As a result, African ground pangolins walk like dinosaurs. When they need to move faster than a waddle, they balance on their hind legs, using their heavy tails for balance to thunder across the ground like a T. rex.
2. They're mammals.
Pangolins are the only known mammal in the world with scales.
3. They’re not anteaters.
Pangolins are often called scaly anteaters, and that’s what they look like. But despite their love of ants, they come from a different genus than anteaters, and scientists are still debating how the two might be related.
4. Their tongues are longer than their bodies.
The pangolin’s tongue connects at its pelvis. When fully extended, it can be more than a foot long.
5. They have no teeth.
Pangolins snag ants and termites with their long, sticky tongues and swallow them whole. They also swallow small pebbles and sand to help them digest insects without chewing.
6. Scales make up 20 percent of their body weight.
Pangolin scales are made up of keratin, the same protein that's in your fingernails and rhinoceros horns.
7. They love to roll around in the mud.
Look how excited this pangolin is to hang out in a mud puddle!
8. They wag their tails when they’re in danger.
When a pangolin spots a predator, it curls up in a tight armored ball. If that fails, it thrashes its tail around—the sharp scales can slice through skin.
9. They’re endangered.
Pangolins are native to Africa and Asia, and all eight species are protected by international law. Two are considered critically endangered.
10. They’re one of the most highly trafficked animals in the world.
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that pangolin scales can help cure cancer, which is why there’s a thriving black market for the rare creature. This past May, customs officials seized almost 550 pounds of pangolin scales at the Shanghai airport. The endangered pangolin is also prized for its meat, which is considered a delicacy in Asia. At least 10,000 pangolins are illegally trafficked each year.