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Tree pangolin, Africa, up to 90 cm (3 ft) long Pangolins are solitary, nocturnal animals from Africa and Asia. They feed from ant or termite nests, shooting their worm-like sticky tongues in and out to pick up many insects at once. The tongue is as long as the head and body and when not extended folds back into a throat pocket. Pangolins have strong front claws that are used for burrowing into insect nests. The tree pangolin is an excellent climber. It uses its long tail to help it move from branch to branch. If threatened, a pangolin curls up into a ball so that its scales shield it from harm. The pangolin’s thick scales cover almost all of its body and are regularly shed and replaced. 

Giant pangolin, Africa, up to 140 cm (4.6 ft) long
Close-up image of pangolin scales


There are eight species of pangolin. Four are Asian (Chinese, Indian, Palawan and Malayan or Sunda); four are African (Cape or ground, tree, giant and long-tailed). They have no hair, except for eyelashes. Instead, they are the only mammals covered in scales. These are made of keratin, the same material that human fingernails and rhino horn are made of. The scales are much prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some believe—without any scientific evidence—that the ground-up scales can cure a range of conditions, including cancer and asthma, or help breastfeeding mothers. As a result, tens of thousands of these animals are captured and sold illegally each year.
Chinese pangolin (at Leipzig zoo).
A pangolin licks up ants with its long, sticky tongue

Insect hunters

There are eight species of pangolin.

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