Common pangolin, Cape pangolin, Temminck's pangolin, Scaly anteater, South African pangolin
The Ground pangolin is an unusual animal that is one of a group of eight species that are armor-plated, distinguished from other mammals due to the layer of protective horny scales. It is the second largest and most widespread of the four pangolin species in Africa. Its long, streamlined body, its small, cone-shaped head and the thick tail are all covered with overlapping scales shaped like artichoke leaves, yellow-brown in color and composed of fused hairs. The only unprotected parts of its body are its underside and the inner sides of its limbs. When threatened, this animal can roll itself into an almost impenetrable ball, wrapping its strong tail around its body, leaving only its sharp scales exposed to any predator.
The Ground pangolin lives in southern and eastern Africa, from Sudan and north-eastern Chad to South Africa. It occurs in savanna and woodland, but not in desert or forest, often near a water source.
Habits and lifestyle
The Ground pangolin is solitary and nocturnal, although in winter often it will venture out during the late afternoon. It spends most of its time on the ground, though it is able to climb and can swim well. It normally walks slowly, with its head swaying and its tail dragging on the ground, although it can run and walk on two legs. Ground pangolins are able to dig their own burrows but they prefer to live in those dug by spring hares or anteaters, and sleep curled up in them. Little is known about how they communicate with each other, but they probably use visual cues, smells, sounds, and touch.
Diet and nutrition
Ground pangolins are polygynous, males fighting fiercely for access to a female. Breeding occurs throughout the year, even while females are rearing young. Gestation is for about 139 days, and usually one young is born. Births take place in an underground shelter. The babies are carried outside once they reach 2 to 4 weeks old. A pup will stay with its mother for around 3 months, and may accompany its father for an extra month, though this is rare. Then it becomes completely independent, but remains in its mother's home range until it is about one year old. Females probably breed once they are 3-4 years old and males probably reach maturity around the same age, but may not breed until they are 5-7 years old.
Ground pangolins are under threat due to the great economic value of their flesh and scales, and loss of their habitat to agriculture. Lions and hyenas are amongst their predators, and they can be killed by brush fires and electrocuted by electric fences.
Ground pangolins are considered widespread but quite rare. The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Ground pangolin total population size. Currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today continue to decrease.
Due to their diet, these animals have an important role as predators of colonial insects within the ecosystems where they live.
Fun facts for kids
- When looking for food, Ground pangolins often walk on their hind legs.
- The other name for the Ground pangolin is Temminck's pangolin, named after Coenraad Jacob Temminck, the Dutch zoologist.
- A pangolin is the only mammal that has scales, which make up around 20% of their body weight and are made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails, rhino horn and lion claws.
- Pangolins eat ants and termites with their long sticky tongues - up to 70 million in a year. They do not have teeth and so they eat small stones to aid their digestion. Pangolins can close their nostrils and ears when they eat, in order to keep insects out.
- The Ground pangolin’s common name comes from the Malay word 'pengguling', which means 'rolling up'.
- Pangolins' main predators include humans, lions, tigers and leopards. However, rolling up into a ball is often enough of a defense against the big cats, as their scales are too hard to bite through, and so these animals do not know what they can do with them.