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Pangolins: Pholidota

Behavior And Reproduction

Pangolins move about slowly and deliberately. They often walk only on their hind legs. The smaller species are classified as arboreal and the larger ones as living on the land. Some species can live both on the ground and in trees. Most of these animals climb well and some also swim. These animals are solitary or sometimes found in pairs.


Trafficking, buying and selling illegally, appears to be one of the most harmful threats to the population of pangolins. Authorities have seized trucks, crates, and bags full of pangolin flesh, scales, and entire animals. Traffickers sell the animals and their parts to buyers who use the animals for food, and because these animals are believed to have healing properties to help various other ailments. For example, trafficking in pangolins in China increases during colder months, because of the belief that pangolin blood helps keep the body warm and enhances sexual performance.

When they feel threatened, pangolins can roll themselves into a ball to defend themselves. When they are in a rolled-up position, the sharp-edged scales act as armor, shielding any unprotected skin and warding away predators, animals that hunt them for food. Once they are rolled into a ball it is very difficult to unroll them. A pangolin has been observed curling itself into a ball and then rolling down a slope, traveling 98 feet (30 meters) in 10 seconds. Pangolins can also spray potential predators with a strong, foul smelling fluid that comes from the anal region.

Almost all pangolins are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. Only one species is active during the day. The species that live on land use their powerful claws to make burrows and can make an 8-foot (2.4-meter) deep tunnel within three to five minutes. The arboreal pangolins use their long tails to balance and hang. Arboreal pangolins roll up in a ball in a tree hollow at night to sleep.

These animals have a well-developed sense of smell that they use to locate prey, animals hunted for food. In general, they have poor eyesight. As pangolins do not have teeth, they grab the prey with their long sticky tongue. They use their front claws to tear open anthills or termite mounds. The food enters their stomach whole, and is broken apart in the lower area of the stomach. All species drink water frequently, and lap it up by rapidly darting out their tongue.

Most pangolins are born between November and May, although findings have suggested that some pangolins can breed throughout the year. Gestation, length of pregnancy, is approximately 120 to 150 days. Generally, female pangolins have a single offspring. At the time of birth, scales are soft, flexible and do not overlap, but they harden after two days. Young pangolins can walk soon after birth. Offspring are carried on the mother's tail or back. A threatened mother will fold her tail and keep her baby under her body. Male pangolins may also share a burrow with females and the young, a characteristic not common among most mammals.

Babies are nursed for three to four months, and they begin to eat termites at about one month. Young pangolins first eat insects they find between the mother's scales. At about five months old offspring become independent.


Pangolins are picky eaters and they depend upon their well-developed sense of smell to locate their preferred foods. Each animal produces a specific smell. One report found that pangolins appear to eat only nineteen species of ants and termites. They especially favor formacid ants, a family of ants that includes fire ants and harvester ants.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsPangolins: Pholidota - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Pangolins And People, Ground Pangolin (manis Temminckii): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS