Pangolins are in the family Manidae, which consists of three genera (Manis, Phataginus, and Smutsia) and eight species. The extant species live only in Africa and Asia. Pangolins thrive in diverse habitats, such as tropical forests, woodlands, and savannas. Although they are similar in appearance to armadillos and anteaters, they are not closely related. Species in Manidae are covered in keratinous scales that protect them from the elements and predators. Pangolins are able to roll up in a ball to protect themselves. Pangolins have long tongues that are used to excavate ant nests, their main source of food. They tend to be nocturnal, although they can be active during the day. The Asian species of pangolin, Manis, are all endangered. Asian pangolins hunted for their scales, which are mistakenly thought to be medicinally useful. Pangolins are the most highly trafficked animals in the world. (Ashokkumar, et al., 2017; Cabana, et al., 2017)

Geographic Range

Pangolins are found in Asia and Africa. Of the 8 species of pangolin, 4 live in Africa and 4 live in the Indo-Malayan region. Temminck's ground pangolins are the only species that lives in southern Africa. The other 3 African species live in the forests of Central and West Africa. Asian pangolins are restricted to the tropical and subtropical regions of southern Asia, specifically, India, Southern China, and Southeast Asia. (Pietersen, et al., 2014; Trageser, et al., 2017)


A large range of habitats are occupied by pangolins, such as savannas, forests, and grasslands. Pangolins shelter in abandoned animal burrows, in caves, between rocks, or in hollow trees. These animals have strong forelimbs and claws that can be used to make burrows and excavate nests of their ant prey. (Pietersen, et al., 2014; Swart, et al., 1998; Trageser, et al., 2017)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

In the family Manidae there are eight extant species. The number of genera in this family has been disputed. The consensus at this point is that there are 3 genera: Manis for Asian pangolins, Phataginus for African tree pangolins, and Smutsia for African ground pangolins (Gaudin, Emry, and Wible, 2009). The 3 genera were decided based on cladistic phylogenetic analysis. Manidae was placed in several different orders, including Cingulata, which is the order for sloths, anteaters, and armadillos, before being placed in Pholidota. Pholidota is sister taxa with Carnivora (Gaudin, Emry, and Wible, 2009). Pangolins are closely related to dogs and cats. Both Pholidota and Carnivora are in the clade Ferae. (Gaudin, et al., 2009)

  • Synonyms
    • Pangolins
  • Synapomorphies
    • Keratin scales
    • Smooth conical skull
    • Lack teeth
    • Muscular stomach used to "chew" food
    • Extremely long tongue

Physical Description

Pangolin bodies are covered in keratinous scales that act as body armor. Their venter, the abdomen area, is covered in hair. Males range from 10 to 50% heavier than females. Indian pangolin males, however, can be up to 90% heavier than the females (Mahmood et al., 2015). Since their diet consists of termites and ants, they have large claws that they use for digging into the termite mounds and ant hills. Their scales also protect them from ant and termite bites. They have extremely long tongues, over 38 cm long. These tongues are long and sticky so that they can efficiently take up as many ants/termites as possible. (Mahmood, et al., 2015; Pietersen, et al., 2014)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger


There is large amount of diversity in the reproduction of pangolins. According to Zhang et al. (2015), the Sunda pangolins reach sexual maturity at one year old or as early as six-seven months old. Pangolins are solitary. Not much is known about how the two sexes find one another. There is not a specific breeding season for pangolins (Zhang et al, 2015). Male pangolins attempting to copulate with female pangolins through mounting have been observed throughout the year. (Mahmood, et al., 2015; Zhang, et al., 2015)

Pangolin litter size generally is between one and two. The African pangolin usually gives birth to one offspring, the Asiatic species can give birth to up to three young, and the Indian pangolin can give birth to one or two offspring (Zhang et al., 2015). The gestation period is between 80 and 180 days (Zhang et al., 2015, Mahood et al., 2015). Mating seasons differ in the several species in Manidae. For the Chinese pangolin, mating behavior was mainly observed in late spring, summer, and early autumn. For the Cape pangolin, the mating season was observed in late summer to early autumn. This differs from the Sunda pangolin that is observed to breed year-round. Weaning occurs when the juveniles are around four months old (Mahmood et al., 2015). (Mahmood, et al., 2015; Zhang, et al., 2015)

Little is known about the parental care in pangolins. It has been observed that the young travel on the back of their mother (Mahmood et al., 2015). The female parent also nurses their young. Maternal care ranges from three to six months (Mohapatra and Panda, 2013). After that time, the young is independent. There is no parental involvement from the male parent. (Mahmood, et al., 2015)


Species in the wild live up to 20 years. Species in captivity live up to 13 years. There is a high mortality rate for captive pangolins. This is because artificial insectivorous diets do not provide the nutritious value that a wild insectivorous diet would provide (Mohapatra and Panda, 2013). (Mohapatra and Panda, 2013)


Pangolins are solitary creatures. The species of pangolin that are located in forested areas use their claws to climb trees. The other species use their claws to dig burrows. Their shelters are used for protection and may also have thermoregulatory benefits as well. They use burrows for several months. Pangolins are predominantly nocturnal. They hunt for ants and termites at night and will often travel up to four miles to find their dinner. When they are agitated they make a hiss sound. (Gaubert, et al., 2016; Mohapatra and Panda, 2013)

Communication and Perception

Pangolins use a scent gland located near their tail to mark their territory and for communication (Wilson, 1994). They don't have very good senses of hearing or vision. They mainly use their sense of smell to navigate and find food (Mohapatra and Panda, 2013). These animals are solitary and they do not have a complex form of social communication. (Mohapatra and Panda, 2013; Wilson, 1994)

Food Habits

Pangolins exclusively eat termites and ants. They eat these invertebrates by using their long sticky tongue to excavate ant hills and termite mounds. They also use their large claws to break apart ant and termite homes (Ashokkumar et al., 2017). Juvenile pangolins feed directly from ant nests where the more nutritious pupae are found. Pangolins have no teeth. The tongue is connected to the lowest part of the sternum and measures between 37.8 and 40.8 cm in length (Lin et al., 2015). Pangolins also have large salivary glands, which is common in myrmecophagous animals. Myrmecophagous animals rely on ants and termites for food. Pangolins have very low metabolisms and on average eat 45 g of food a day (Lin et al., 2015). (Ashokkumar, et al., 2017; Lin, et al., 2015)


Pangolins' main anti-predator adaptation is their ability to roll into a ball and be surrounded by their keratin scale armor. The scales overlap and are sharp. When a pangolin is rolled up, it is hard for a predator to puncture the scales and cause harm to the pangolin. They can also use their scent gland to spray predators with a foul smell, similar to skunks (Wilson, 1994). They are preyed upon by lions, tigers, and leopards. In order to defend themselves from predators, they roll up into a ball so that their scales are facing outward (Gaubert et al., 2016). This is an effective mode of protection. This unfortunately does not protect them from human predation. Humans hunt pangolins for their scales. (Wilson, 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

Pangolins aid in control of ant and termite populations (Ashokkumar et al.,2017). Pangolins also help to aerate the soil through burrowing and using their large claws (Lin et al., 2015). This helps to distribute nutrients throughout the soil. (Ashokkumar, et al., 2017; Lin, et al., 2015)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chinese and African cultures believe that pangolin scales have medicinal value. Because so many people believe that pangolins provide a beneficial product, these animals have been hunted to the point of endangerment (Ashokkumar et al., 2017). (Ashokkumar, et al., 2017)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Manidae on humans.

Conservation Status

Pangolins are considered threatened with extinction on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are the most highly poached animal in the world (Ashokkumar et al., 2017). There are hunted for their meat and for their scales. Pangolin trafficking used to only be confined to Asia, but now Africa has begun trafficking scales to Asia. This is happening in extremely large quantities; tens of thousands of pangolins are impacted each year (Challender, 2018). Human activity, such as foot traffic, livestock grazing, and human settlements, also has a negative effect on the pangolins. This is why they mainly reside in protected forests. One of the most important acts of conservation is education. The more people know about the animals, the more they would be willing to help save them from extinction. There are numerous foundations that are dedicated to helping pangolins population grow. (Ashokkumar, et al., 2017; Challender, 2018)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

The fossil record is lacking, most likely because pangolins do not have teeth and they also live in areas that do not preserve their fossils well. However, there is a small number of fairly complete fossils have been found from the Cenozoic Era including the genus Eomanis, which is the oldest extinct pangolin (Gaudin, Emry, and Wible, 2009). The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning "one that rolls up" which refers to the way that pangolins roll up in order to defend themselves (Grosshuesch, 2012). (Gaudin, et al., 2009)


Shelby Walters (author), Colorado State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Ashokkumar, M., D. Valsarajan, M. Suresh, A. Kiamal, G. Chandy. 2017. Stomach Contents of the Indian Pangolin Manis Crassicaudata (Mammalia:Pholidota: Manidae) in Tropical Forests of Southern India. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 9: 10246-10248. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Cabana, F., A. Plowman, T. Nguyen, S. Chin, S. Wu, H. Lo, H. Watabe, Y. Fujio. 2017. Feeding Asian Pangolins: An assessment of current diets fed in institutions worldwide. Zoo Biology, 36(4): 298-305. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Challender, D. 2018. "Scaling Up Pangolin Conservation Like Never Before" (On-line). IUCN. Accessed April 23, 2018 at

Gaubert, P., F. Njiokou, G. Ngua, K. Afiademanyo, S. Dufour. 2016. Phylogeography of the heavily poached African common pangolin (Pholidota, Manis tricuspis) reveals six cryptic lineages as traceable signatures of Pleistocene diversification. Molecular Ecology, 25(23): 5975-5993. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Gaudin, T., R. Emry, J. Wible. 2009. The Phylogeny of Living and Extinct Pangolins (Mammalia, Pholidota) and Associated Taxa: A Morphology Based Analysis. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, Vol.16(4): 235. Accessed March 25, 2018 at

Grosshuesch, C. 2012. "Rollin' with the Pangolin" (On-line). Bioweb. Accessed April 23, 2018 at

Ho Lee, R., K. Cheung, J. Fellowes, B. Guenard. 2017. Insights Into the Chinese Pangolin’s (Manis pentadactyla) Diet in a Peri-Urban Habitat. A Case Study From Hong Kong, 10: 1-7. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Lin, M., C. Chang, C. Yang, E. Dierenfeld. 2015. Aspects of digestive anatomy, feed intake and digestion in the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) at Taipei zoo. Zoo Biology, 34(3): 262-270. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Mahmood, T., N. Irshad, R. Hussain, F. Akrim, I. Hussain. 2015. Breeding habits of the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in Potohar Plateau, Pakistan. Mammalia, 10(2): 231-234. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Mohapatra, R., S. Panda. 2013. Husbandry, behaviour and conservation breeding of Indian pangolin. Folia Zoologica, 63(2): 73-80. Accessed February 26, 2018 at

Pietersen, D., A. McKechnie, R. Jansen. 2014. Home Range, Habitat Selection and Activity Patterns of an Arid-Zone Population of Temminck's Ground Pangolins, Smutsia temminckii. African Zoology, 49(2): 265-276. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Swart, J., P. Richardson, J. Ferguson. 1998. Ecological factors affecting the feeding behaviour of pangolins(Manis temminckii). Journal of Zoology, 247: 281-292. Accessed February 06, 2018 at

Trageser, S., A. Ghose, M. Faisal, P. Mro, P. Mro. 2017. Pangolin distribution and conservation status in Bangladesh. PLoS ONE, 12(4): 1-12. Accessed February 06, 2018 at,,SSL+1?accountid=10223.

Wilson, A. 1994. Husbandry of pangolins Manis spp. International Zoo Yearbook, 33(1): 248-251.

Zhang, F., S. Wu, L. Yang, L. Zhang, R. Sun. 2015. Reproductive parameters of the Sunda pangolin, Manis javanica. Folia Zoologica, 64(2): 129-135. Accessed February 06, 2018 at