Rollin' With the Pangolin
(Manis temminckii )

Adaptations - Protection Perfected

There are many ways that pangolins have evolved and adapted over time in order to better survive and prosper in their habitat and surroundings.  The main adaptation that they have is tough scales that cover their bodies, protecting them from predators.  These scales are moveable and are actually made up of hairs that have been fused A close up of the scales. Image courtesy of Tikki Hywood Trust.together, making them strong and durable.  Because the scales are so dense, they are also very heavy, making up 20% of the animals' body weight.  As well as being extremely tough, the scales are very sharp and pangolins are able to swing their long tails around, using them as a jagged club.  These hard pieces of keratin even protect against desiccation, or water loss, and their brown color helps pangolins blend in with the various environments in which they live.  With the many functions and uses of the scales of pangolins, it is easy to see how these are the most important adaptation they possess.

A pangolin rolled into a ball for protection. Photo courtesy of David Bygott.Another important adaptation that pangolins possess is their ability to curl into a ball when they feel threatened or are attacked.  When they do this, only their scales are exposed, making them a very tough prey item.  The muscles in their abdomen are very strong and help keep the animals curled up even when predators are trying to pry them open.  Without this ability, they would be very vulnerable because they are slow moving.  Without this essential adaptation, a predator could easily flip the mammals over, exposing their less-protected belly area.

A pangolin walking on its back legs.  Image courtesy of Tikki Hywood Trust.Because of the long claws on their front limbs, which make it difficult for these animals to walk on all four legs, they have adapted a special way of walking.  Pangolins usually walk only on their rear legs, holding their front legs slightly above the ground and dragging their tail behind them to help with stability and balance.  Although they usually move very slowly, in times of distress they can reach speeds of up to 5 miles per hour.  They are also able to move on all four limbs for short periods of time, curling their front claws and paws so they do not damage them.   

Small eyes with thick eyelids are a final significant adaptation pangolins have.  Because they have a very good sense of smell and decent hearing, using chemoreceptors and mechanoreceptors to detect environmental stimuli,  good eyesight is not necessary. A young pangolin curled up into a ball.  This picture also shows the small, tough eyes of the animal.  Image courtesy of Tikki Hywood Trust. Therefore, pangolins have small eyes with tough eyelids that protect them from the bites of insects they are consuming.  When the animals get into an insect mound thousands of insects are crawling around.  As  pangolins attempt to consume ants or termites, the insects try to bite them.  If pangolins did not posses thick eyelids, their eyes would be an easy target for insects to bite, preventing them from feeding effectively.


Click here to find out what the pangolin eats!       


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2012 Craig Grosshuesch