The Pangolin measures over 1 m in length and weighs up to 18 Kg. The body is protected by armour of imbricated brown scales, which uniquely identifies this specie amongst all mammals. Except for the forehead there is no scales on the head or belly, nor on the inner surfaces of the legs.
The first and last digits of the forefeet are reduced, whereas the middle three digits and claws are well developed for digging. The front legs are also shorter than the hind legs. The broad-based tail tapers to a rounded tip.
Since Pangolin are entirely insectivorous, an abundant availability of ants and termites to sustain subsistence, governs its occurrence. Another factor determining occurrence, is the availability of burrows or other forms of shelter. They feed predominantly on formicid ants.
Pangolin appear to be highly selective feeders in that only 19 species of ants and termites are taken. It locates prey by smell, even under the soil surface. When prey is located, tunnels are opened up with the well equipped front paws.
The 250 mm long, rod-shaped tongue is covered with a sticky saliva. This is used as a tool to collect prey by inserting it into the termite tunnels. When withdrawn it is covered with trapped prey which is gathered into the mouth.
Such feeding exercises are executed about 90 times per night, and each feeding lasts about one minute. As it lacks teeth, the sand ingested with each withdrawal assists to masticate the food items in the muscular mouth.
A Pangolin couple pairs briefly for 1-2 days during March. Mating occurs side by side, with the male forcing his tail beneath the female to assist coitus. A female gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of 135 days. Birthing occurs during July or August.
Young are suckled in the den, where it is left behind when the female goes out to forage. Young are frequently moved to a new den after about the first month.
Pangolins are well equipped for self defense. The Pangolin usually rolls up into a ball when threatened. Arboreal pangolins roll up in a ball in a tree hollow at night to sleep. Pangolins can lash out with their razor sharp scales. They also have scent glands similar to those of the skunk which they can use to spray enemies.
Pangolins can amble along on all fours, but for speed they stand up on two feet using their long tail for support. They run at a speed of about 5km per hour.
Pangolins are endangered because their skin makes attractive leather for boots, similar to snakeskin or armadillo boots. Also, Pangolins are eaten in some parts of the world. Only seven living species of mammal are included in the Pholidota, the Pangolins or scaly anteaters. There are four species in Africa and three in southeast Asia.
Pangolins were once more widely distributed throughout the world, an essentially modern-looking fossil Pangolin, Eomanis, has been found in the Eocene of Germany, and another fossil Pangolin has been found in the lower Oligocene of North America.
Today, because of habitat destruction and hunting (Pangolin scales are used in Chinese and African medicine), the three Asian species and one of the African species of Pangolin are considered endangered.