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The Pangolin (Pholidota)

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Also known as the scaly anteater, this creature looks like some kind of armadillo but is actually more closely related to cats and dogs. This beautifully armored mammal is being driven to extinction for its scales and flesh.

Pangolin walking across barren area of land, grasses in the background.
Image Source: NatGeo Kids: Courtesy Ben McRae Photography:

Pangolins are mammals in the order Pholidota. There are eight species of pangolin and they fall into three main groups: Manis, Phataginus, and Smutsia. Most look very similar to each other though they may vary in size and habitat. The arboreal species below, Manis tetradactyla, for instance, likes to hang out in low-lying tree branches in Africa and has a unique colorization pattern on its scales.

Image of the arboreal species: The Black bellied pangolin, with beautiful golden scutes that darken towards the base.
Image Source: Black bellied pangolin:

Interesting Fact: Because pangolins are mammals they provide their young with milk. In fact, the female pangolin clearly has identifiable breasts and nipples.

Image of pangolin with protruding forward-facing breasts. Wrinkled with pointy nipples.
Image Courtesy of Judy & Scott Hurd

Young pangolins will hang out on their mother's tail and crawl forward and attempt to suckle underneath. The mother will usually oblige and roll over or turn to the side to allow the pangopup to suckle.

Young pangolin chillin' on mother's tail.
Image Source:


Pangolins are insectivorous (they eat only insects) but don't have any teeth. They use their strong claws to rip open ant and termite mounds. They then use their long super sticky tongues (which can be as long as their body) to lap up insects. Since they can't chew, they use the sand and small rocks that get lapped up by mistake to help them crush the insects in their stomach.

Distribution (Where are they located?)

Pangolins can be found in Central to Southern Africa, India, China, and in Southeast Asian countries.

Map of the distribution of the Pangolin
Pangolin. (2023, February 10). In Wikipedia.


The pangolin is going extinct with most species being endangered or critically endangered. Sadly, pangolins are prized for their scales and flesh. The scales are made of keratin, the same material in your hair and nails. Some folk medicines believe that pangolin scales have medicinal properties even though there is no scientific evidence that this is the case. 😔 To help work to stop this horrible act, spread the word about these beautiful animals to others. You can also contact your state representatives and ask them to support the Prevent Pandemic Act. Foreign animal trade as well as domestic animal agriculture is a major cause of epidemics and pandemics. The wet market industry also objectifies these beautiful sentient and dreaming beings, perpetuating their needless torture, mutilation, and death. They need our help. Ⓥ🌱

Scale Graph showing pangolins as being critically endangered.
Source: IUCN RedList:

Watch a video presentation about the pangolin from our science colleague, Danielle Dufault over at Animal Logic.

Thank you for reading and watching!

-- Dr. Finley aka Dr. Reiji

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