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Reproduction Physical Characteristics Pangolin species vary in size from about 1. They vary in color from light to yellowish brown through olive to dark brown.
Protective, overlapping scales cover most of their bodies.
These scales are made from keratin — the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Overlapping like artichoke leaves, the scales grow throughout the life of a pangolin just like hair; scale edges are constantly filed down as pangolins dig burrows and tunnel through the soil in search of termites and ants.
Pangolin undersides do not have scales, and are covered with sparse fur. Unlike African pangolins, Asian pangolins also have thick bristles that emerge from between their scales. With small conical heads and jaws lacking teeth, pangolins have amazingly long, muscular, and sticky tongues that are perfect for reaching and lapping up ants and termites in deep cavities.
Pangolins have poor vision, so they locate termite and ant nests with their strong sense of smell. Pangolin limbs are stout and well adapted for digging. Each paw has five toes, and their forefeet have three long, curved, claws used to demolish the nests of termites and ants and to dig nesting and sleeping burrows.
Pangolins shuffle on all four limbs, balancing on the outer edges of their forefeet and tucking their foreclaws underneath as they walk.
They can run surprisingly fast, and will often rise on their hind limbs to sniff the air. Pangolins are also capable swimmers, and while some pangolin species such as the African ground pangolin Manis temmincki are completely terrestrial, others, such as the African tree pangolin Manis tricuspisare adept climbers, using their claws and semi-prehensile tails to grip bark and scale trees.
Taxonomy There are eight pangolin species. All pangolins belong to the genus Manis in the family Manidae, which is the only family within the order Pholidota. Four species are found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert: The four Asian pangolins are distinguished from the African species by the presence of bristles which emerge from between the scales.
Pangolins are found in a variety of habitats including tropical and flooded forests, thick brush, cleared and cultivated areas, and savannah grassland; in general they occur where large numbers of ants and termites are found.
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Asian pangolins in particular are threatened by loss of habitat due to expanding agriculture and other human uses. Pangolins dig deep burrows for sleeping and nesting that contain circular chambers.
Large chambers have been discovered in terrestrial pangolin burrows that were big enough for a human to crawl inside and stand up. Some pangolin species such as the Malayan pangolin also sleep in the hollows and forks of trees and logs.
Life Span It is unknown how long pangolins can live in the wild, though pangolins have reportedly lived as long as twenty years in captivity.
Behavior These solitary mammals are nocturnal and highly secretive, thus it is difficult for scientists to study them in the wild, and many mysteries remain about their behavior and habits.
Some pangolin species such as the Chinese pangolin sleep in underground burrows during the day, and others including African tree pangolins and Malayan pangolins are known to sleep in trees.
They emerge in the evening to forage for insects. Pangolins are well adapted for digging: Tunneling underground, they excavate the sides and roofs of passages by pushing up and from side to side with their tough scaled bodies. They use their front and hind feet to back accumulated soil toward the burrow entrance, and vigorously kick dirt out of the entrance up to a meter or more.Travel experiences and recommendations tailored to your travel interests from the experts at USA TODAY Travel.
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