Manis javanicaMalayan pangolin

Geographic Range

Malayan pangolins, Manis javanica , inhabit the paleotropics. Specifically, these pangolins are found in southeastern Asia within the Indomalayan regions. (Corbet and Hill, 1992)


Malayan pangolins inhabit a variety of landscapes, including primary and secondary forests, open savannah country, and areas vegetated with thick bush. They often observed in cultivated areas such as gardens and plantations. Although they are terrestrial creatures that inhabit burrows, either excavated with their huge claws or borrowed from previous residents, they are known to be agile climbers and spend time within trees resting or searching for food. (Nowak, 1999)

Physical Description

Malayan pangolins are strikingly unique creatures, whose coat of movable and sharp-tipped scales are reminiscent of descriptions of a dragon's armor or "living pine cones" as they are nicknamed. They are 79-88 cm long, including the tail, and males are typically larger than females. They are covered from just above the nostrils to the tips of their tails by many rows of overlapping scales (17-19 rows on midsection and >20 rows along tail) . The scales on the back and sides are olive-brown to yellowish and hard. These scales are derived from hairs. The underbelly and face are covered in whitish to pale-brown hair, and the skin is gray to bluish.

Males are larger than females. The species has a small conical head with small eyes that are protected by thick eyelids. The external ear parts are greatly reduced. The nose is fleshy, and the mouth lacks teeth. They have extremly long, thin tongues, capable of extending about 25 cm, which covered with a sticky saliva. This helps them collect termites and ants. They have significant adaptations to account for their enormous tongue which passes through the chest cavity and anchors to the pelvis. These include lack of a clavicle, and and odd structure of their xiphisternum (Nowak, 1999). They are pentadactylous; their forefeet are equipt with pads on the soles, large digging claws and are longer and stronger than their hindfeet. Malayan pangolins have prehensile tails and can close their nostril and ear openings. (Corbet and Hill, 1992; Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range length
    79 to 88 cm
    31.10 to 34.65 in


Sparring for potential mates has been reported. Coupled with the sexual dimorphism in size, the evidence supports the conclusion that males compete for females, and that some males probably don't get to mate. This means the species is probably at least somewhat polygynous. (Medway, L, 1969)

There is not much information known about Malayan pangolin reproduction. Violent sparring over potential mates has been documented. These pangolins are thought to breed in the autumn, and to give birth in the winter burrow. Gestation is about 130 days. One or rarely two offspring may be produced. Weaning occurs after three months, and sexual maturity is reached by one year of age.

Newborn pangolins have soft scales, which harden after birth, and can weigh from 100 to 500 g. Neonate weight probably varies with the adult body size of the species. Some populations of pangolins may be capable of year-round breeding. (Medway, L, 1969; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    These animals probably breed annually.
  • Breeding season
    These pangolins are thought to breed in the autumn, and give birth in winter burrow.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2 (rarely)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    130 days
  • Average weaning age
    3 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Parental care seems to be the responsibility only of females. Females nurse their young for approximately three months. Young are fairly agile at an early age and are considered precocial.

Observations of females adopting other's young have been documented. Females have 1 pair of mammae. Mother pangolins are extremly protective. When threatened, a mother will curl up into a tight ball with her young safely nestled within. At other times, the young rides upon the base of the mother's tail. (Medway, L, 1969)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Due to their elusive nocturnal habits and low population numbers, there have not been any long-term published studies done of Malayan pangolin lifespan. They are extremly hard to keep alive in captivity, which also does not allow people to collect any data about their lifespan.

However, a con-generic species, M. crassicaudata produced one specimen which lived in captivity for almost 20 years. (Nowak, 1999; Tweedie, 1978)


Malayan pangolins are sometimes found in pairs, but are mainly solitary, nocturnal, and timid. They move slowly on all four feet unless threatened. Under threat, a pangolin can move swiftly on hindfeet alone, with the aid of its prehensile tail. The tail is also used when climbing trees. They have been observed swimming. They are thought to travel an average of 0.7-1.8 km/day. They are strong diggers and will make burrows lined with vegetation for insulation near termite mounds and ant nests. (Medway, L, 1969)

Home Range

The home range size for these animals is not known.

Communication and Perception

Not much is known about pangolin communication, but it is suspected that their main mode is via scent markings. As with all mammals, there is some visual communication, and tactile communication occurs, especially between mothers and offspring, potential mates, and potential rivals for mates. Pangolins are also known to make some vocalizations. (Medway, L, 1969; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Malayan pangolins are also known as scaly anteaters; they are extreme specialist (myrmecophages) eating only ants and termites. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects


Malayan pangolins have a functional suit of armor to protect them from predators, sharp underbrush, and rocks. When threatened, a pangolin will swish its tail about with the pointed scales erect. If that doesn't work to deter the threat, the animal will curl up into a tight ball so its soft belly is protected within. If the pangolin is unravelled, its last resort is to squirt a foul-smelling liquid onto the potential predatory while devoiding its bowels at the same time. (Nowak, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

Scaly anteaters may be important in controlling insect populations. It is estimated that an adult pangolin may consume about 70 million insects annually.

By constructing burrows and digging a bit to get at ants and termites, these animals also aid in soil aeration. (Heath, 1992)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Malayan pangolins are hunted for their skins, scales, and meat. Their parts are used for medicinal purposes. (Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There have been no reports of negative effects of these animals on humans. Lacking teeth, they can't even bite.

Conservation Status

Populations of most pangolin species are somehow threatened. M. javanica is listed by IUCN as LR/nt, meaning that it is nearly threatened, and comes close to meeting the criteria necessary to be listed as vulnerable.

There is a high demand for pangolin scales for traditional medicines in many parts of the world. Meat is eaten by indigenous peoples. Hides are also used to make shoes. One of the main importers of pangolin skins from 1980-1985 was the United States of America. (Nowak, 1999)


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kelley Breen (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor), Humboldt State University.



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


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


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.


active during the night


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

World Map


having more than one female as a mate at one time

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


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.


uses sight to communicate


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

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Corbet, G., J. Hill. 1992. Mammals of the Indomalayan region. Oxford: Natural History Museum, London and Oxford University Press.

Heath, M. 1992. Manis pentadactyla. Mammalian Species, 414: 1-6.

Medway, L, 1969. The Wild Mammals of Malaya. London: Oxford University Press.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tweedie, M. 1978. Mammals of Malaysia. Kuala Lampur: Longman, Malaysia.