Thick-tailed pangolin, Scaly anteater
The Indian pangolin’s armor is amongst the most effective in the mammalian world. It has about 13 rows of moveable sharp scales covering its body, which are shed periodically. Its snout, the inside of its legs and the underparts of its body are unprotected, but it can roll into a tight ball during times of danger, leaving only its scales exposed. It also has several hairs in between each scale, to protect against its primary prey – termites and ants.
The Indian pangolin lives in Bangladesh, Southern Nepal, Sri Lanka, India (south of the Himalayas), and small parts of Pakistan. It inhabits rainforest, grasslands, and barren hilly areas. It can live in modified habitats, so long as there are plenty of termites and ants.
Habits and lifestyle
Indian pangolins are nocturnal, and spend most of their day among rocks or in their burrows. At night they leave their burrows to search for food. Most of the time they live alone, except during the mating season, when a male and a female are found living in the same burrow. Burrows range in depth, depending on soil type: as deep as 6 m in soft soil and usually about 2 m in rocky hard soil. They usually close the burrow’s entrance with loose soil to conceal it from predators. These animals use their forelegs to climb, and their prehensile tail and legs for a better grip. However, since most of them live and feed on the ground, this means that they are considered terrestrial. Their vocalizations are limited to loud hissing when agitated, so instead they use their keen sense of smell for communication.
Diet and nutrition
The Indian pangolin is almost entirely insectivorous and more specifically a myrmecophage - this species mainly eats ants, termites, and their eggs, though one has been recorded as eating beetle wing sheaths, skins of worms, and cockroaches.
Little information is available about the mating patterns of this species. Births have been known to occur in January, March, July, and November. Gestation is for 65-70 days. A single young is usually born, occasionally two. Newborns weigh 200-500 grams. At birth their scales are soft, their eyes are functional, and they can crawl. At about 1 month old they can be carried on the base of their mother's tail when she is foraging. At about 3 months old they are weaned.
January, March, July, November
The main threat to this species is hunting, and this is probably causing a decline in its numbers. It is killed for its scales, believed to have medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, and also for its leathery skin, used to make boots, shoes and other goods, and for its meat.
No estimate of population size is available for Indian pangolin. Currently this species is classified as Endangered (EN) and it numbers today are decreasing.
Being insectivorous, these animals may affect insect populations in their range.
Fun facts for kids
- Indian pangolins have strong claws and use them to attack ants' nests and termite mounds.
- The Indian pangolin has much larger scales than the three Asian pangolin species.
- Normally a shy animal, Indian pangolins have been known to wander into villages and dig through concrete into houses.
- A pangolin’s scales consist of keratin, the same protein substance in our hair and nails, the “teeth” of baleen whales, rhino horns, and bears’ claws (and those of other clawed animals).
- Baby pangolins are carried around on the base of their mother’s tail.
- Pangolins eat ants and termites with their long sticky tongues, and consume up to 70 million in a year.