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10 Facts About Pangolins—the Scaly Wonders of the Animal Kingdom

Between its scaly body and sticky tongue, the pangolin is a fascinating animal. These pangolin facts will make you appreciate the endangered species on a new level.

pangolin facts
Written by
Riley Baker
Dressed in a suit of armor-like scales, equipped with a long, twisting tongue, and shrouded in an air of elusive mystery, pangolins have bewitched observers across the globe with their idiosyncratic charm. Yet, beneath this fascination lies a harsh reality: these captivating creatures are among the most endangered species on our planet.
Their unique characteristics, which make them an object of wonder, also make them a target. But there's hope. Through education and widespread awareness, you can contribute to the preservation of these extraordinary animals, safeguarding their existence for future generations to admire.

Is the Pangolin Endangered?

pangolin facts
The pangolin lineage traces back
over 80 million years
, making them some of the oldest mammals on Earth. They have
withstood multiple mass extinctions
, a testament to their resilience. Today, you'll find eight species—four in Africa, and the other four in Asia.
Unfortunately, the pangolin's survival is jeopardized by habitat loss and rampant poaching. According to 
, it's likely the "most trafficked mammal in the world." Its scales, coveted in
traditional Chinese medicine
, and its meat, considered a delicacy in parts of Asia and Africa, are the primary drivers of this threat. According to the
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
, "all eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws, and two are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species."
The good news is a wave of efforts is rising against the tide of their extinction. The
Pangolin Crisis Fund
, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Network, invests in projects that "stop the poaching of pangolins, stop the trade and demand for pangolin products, and raise the profile of this little-known animal." The WWF also launched the 
Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online
with the goal to "unite the tech sector in shutting down this open route for illegal trade."
If you want to get to know this amazing creature on a new level—and learn exactly why it's worth fighting for—read on for pangolin facts you'll want to share with everyone you know.

10 Pangolin Facts You Should Know

1. They're the only mammal covered in scales.

Imagine a creature, the only one of its kind in the mammalian kingdom, armored in a suit of scales. Crafted from keratin—the same material that gives strength to our hair and nails—these scales serve an essential purpose. They form a formidable shield, a first line of defense against the pangolin's predators—a testament to nature's ingenuity in the face of danger.

2. Their main food source is insects.

Pangolins are insectivores. With their long, sticky tongues, they engage in a relentless pursuit of ants, termites, and other
. A single pangolin is capable of consuming a staggering
70 million insects
in a mere span of a year.

3. They're most active at night.

Pangolins are nocturnal animals, meaning they are most active at night. They spend their days sleeping in burrows or in the hollows of trees. Pangolins are also solitary creatures and only come together to mate.

4. They close their ears and nostrils while they're eating.

As you can imagine, eating termites and ants isn't exactly easy without the right protections in place. Once pangolins find the tasty treat, they close their ears and nostrils in order to prevent the bugs from crawling inside places they shouldn't be.

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5. They curl up in a ball when they're scared.

With a defense mechanism that seems straight out of a fairy tale, these intriguing animals curl themselves into an impenetrable ball when faced with danger, their tough, armor-like scales serving as their shield against predators.
Yet, the pangolin's defensive strategy doesn't stop there. If a predator dares to persist, the pangolin deploys a second line of defense,
exuding a pungent odor
from glands near its anus—a scent so foul that even the most determined attackers are swiftly deterred.

6. They benefit the environment.

Pangolins are natural pest controllers, keeping ant and termite populations under control and maintaining the ecological balance. They also contribute to soil health. As they dig with their long claws in search of food, they churn up the soil, inadvertently aiding in its aeration. This, in turn, fosters better water absorption, bolsters the soil's ability to hold nutrients, and subsequently, improves overall plant growth.

7. They're great swimmers.

Unleashing a plethora of skills, pangolins embody the quintessence of versatility—they deftly climb trees, meticulously dig burrows, and even venture into the aquatic domain with an innate ability to swim. This exceptional adaptability allows them to conquer diverse habitats and thrive in a variety of environments.

8. Babies are (adorably) called "pangopups."

Imagine a newborn creature, so small, so delicate, with soft scales that will soon become a powerful armor. This is the enchanting beginning of a "pangopup," the term for a baby pangolin.
Within mere days of entering this world, their initially pliable scales harden, preparing them for the challenges ahead. The first few weeks of their existence are spent in a most endearing manner—securely riding on their mother's tail.

9. They don't have teeth.

Imagine a creature that, despite having no teeth, has evolved a fascinating method to digest its food. Pangolins, in a remarkable display of adaptation, swallow small stones and grains of sand, using these as natural grinders in their stomachs to break down their food. 

10. They have super long tongues.

Pangolin tongues are incredibly long and muscular, often up to 28 inches—or about the length of their bodies. Their tongues are also very sticky, allowing them to easily catch and eat insects.