5 min read

6 Facts Uncovered About One Of The World's Most Mysterious Creatures

<p>Creative Commons: Valerius Tygart</p>

Pangolins are often thought of as the small, cute, scaly cousins of anteaters - but there's actually quite a bit more to learn about these unusual creatures.

1. They are quite secretive.
Very little information about the pangolin populations is available, as they are very solitary animals and keep mostly to themselves. However, it is widely accepted that all pangolin species are in decline, the Asian species in particular.

2. They like to get spherical.
Pangolins curl into balls when they feel threatened. Their spiny, pine-cone scales make their little orbs virtually impenetrable to predators. The scales are made from keratin, the same material that makes up hair and nails, and their scales are sharp enough to cut through flesh. In the photo below, a pangolin curls up to deter a group of hungry lions.

(Creative commons: Sandip Kumar)

3. Their claw game is on point.
Pangolin claws are quite long - so long, actually, that they are somewhat unsuitable for walking. Because of this, pangolins generally curl their claws under their paws when walking, using their back legs and tails to carry most of their weight. These long claws are used for digging, which is very important for pangolins and their environment. Pangolins dig to find insects in the ground, and by doing so, they actually help the soil by acting as natural rototillers.

4. They don't need teeth.
Generally, most insectivores need teeth in some form or fashion to properly digest their food. Pangolins don't have any teeth, so they improvise with the help of mother nature. Pangolins swallow small rocks so that the gravel will crush up any insects the pangolin might eat.

Below, a ridiculously cute little pangolin cools off in the mud at the Rare and Endangered Species Trust in Namibia.

(YouTube: Earth Touch)

5. Calling them "stinky" is a compliment.
In addition to rolling up in tight balls, pangolins have an additional unusual defense mechanism: they secrete a foul-smelling acid from their anus to drive predators away. They are similar to skunks in this way, although they do not spray the secretion, as skunks do.

6. Their numbers are sadly dwindling.
Pangolin populations are in trouble due to several factors, including deforestation, but poaching still poses the largest threat to the little pangolins. They are often killed immediately when found by poachers in the wild, but occasionally they are kept alive to be served to diners in restaurants in China. According to a chef in one of these restaurants in Guangdong, the pangolins are kept "alive in cages until the customer makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death."

You can do your part to help pangolin populations by donating or learning more at Pangolin SG.