Manidae: Pangolin Family

The pangolin family is the only one in its order. The family contains 7 species of nocturnal ant-eating and termite-eating mammals. The typical pangolin has the same general body shape as that of the American giant anteater. The pangolin has no teeth in its elongate head.

The name of these unusual mammals comes from the Malaysian word "pengguling". Pangolins are also called spiny anteaters.

Pangolin hunts during the day. Their keen sense of smell enables them to locate ants' nests, which they will break open. They then use their long tongues, measuring up to 44 cm (17 in), to draw out the insects within. Pangolins have a special salivary gland that ensures their tongue remains sticky, trapping as many insects as possible. If threatened, they can also spray an acid secretion from anal glands.

Distribution: There are seven species, occurring in Asia, from India to Indo-China, east to China and south to Indonesia, and also across much of Africa.

Weight: Ranges from 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) to 32 kg (70 lb).

Length: 63 - 150 cm (25 - 60 in).

Maturity: 2 years.

Gestation Period: 65 - 139 days; scales are soft in newborn pangolins.

Breeding: 1, but can be up to 3 in Asiatic species; weaning occurs at about 3 months

Food: Feeds on ants and termites.

Lifespan: Up to 20 years.


Long and narrow, with no teeth but an extendible tongue in the mouth.

Front feet

Specialized in function, the front feet have long, sharp claws.


Long and flexible, the tail is well-protected by scales.


While some pangolins live in trees, others burrow into the ground, tunnelling as far as 3.5 m (11 ft) below the surface.


The pangolin can use its tail as a hand to support its weight.


Tree Pangolin

Range: Africa: Senegal to W. Kenya, south to Angola.

Habitat: Rain forest.

Size: Body: 13 3/4 - 17 3/4 in (35 - 45 cm); Tail: 19 1/4 - 23 1/2 in (49 - 60 cm).

It lives in the rainforests that skirt the grasslands of East Africa. The tree pangolin has distinctive scales on its back. Each scale has three pronounced points on its free edge. In older animals the points of the scales become worn.

When pulled back into the mouth, the tongue is held in a sheath that extends halfway along the body's length. The pangolin has no teeth and so cannot chew its meal. This function is transferred to the gut lining, which is lined with thin scales that grind the food into a paste as the stomach churns. The pangolin swallows grit and pebbles as it eats, which also help with the grinding process.


Cape Pangolin

There are four types of pangolin, also known as scaly anteaters, living in Africa. Two of them are tree-living animals with long prehensile tails, which they use when climbing. The other two species, which include the endangered Cape pangolin, live in burrows and forage on the ground.

Pangolins usually walk on their knuckles to save wear and tear on their claws, which they use for opening ant and termite nests. Sometimes they walk on their back legs, using the trailing tail to keep balance.

Pangolins feed solely on ants and termites. They have several adaptations, such as having no teeth, which help them in this regard. They have sticky tongues up to 25 cm (10 in) long for collecting their prey. Unlike any other mammals, however, pangolins have scales rather than hairs, giving them a reptilian appearance. The Cape pangolin has declined in numbers.

Distribution: Chad and Sudan to Namibia and S. Africa.

Habitat: Savannah and shrubland.

Food: Ants, termites and occasionally other insects.

Size: 40 - 50 cm (15.75 - 19.75 in); 15 - 18 kg (33 - 39.75 lb).

Maturity: 2 years.

Breeding: 1 or occasionally 2 young.

Life span: Unknown.

Status: Threatened.


Long-Tailed Pangolin

This pangolin is found in forests across Central Africa in a range that begins in southern Uganda and extends west to Senegal and south to Angola. It is arboreal (built for living in trees), and most of its time is spent in the high canopy of the rainforest; indeed, some individuals may never come down to the ground.

Like its relatives, this species survives on ants. The pangolin spends the day licking up ants that are moving along the forest branches. It sleeps in a hollow by night.

The most striking feature about this little treeliving pangolin is its hugely long tail, which is roughly twice as long as the body.

The tongue is not the only long body part. This species of pangolin also has a very long, flexible tail. The tip is naked of scales and is highly sensitive to touch. It acts as a feeler and fifth limb and can be wrapped around branches to provide that extra bit of support. If the location allows it, the pangolins are known to leap from the branches into the safety of water.

Distribution: Central Africa.

Habitat: Rainforest.

Food: Ants and termites.

Size: 40 cm (15.75 in); 3 kg (6.5 lb).

Maturity: 2 years.

Breeding: Single young born at all times of year.

Life span: 10 years.

Status: Common.