In a hole in the ground there lived a... pangolin.
Here at Dark Roasted Blend, we love pangolins. These are spectacularly strange, wildly fascinating creatures that combine traits of many diverse animals. Endangered, genetically unique and intrinsically awesome, this animal is truly, well, "precise". (as some of you may know, there is a current software release called "Precise Pangolin"). So, what exactly is so precise about them? Let's see...
Add to this extremely sharp claws (the scales are also sharp-edged, so it could be problematic to cuddle a full-grown animal), ability to expertly swing and hang around (thanks to a very strong tail), and wildly noxious-smelling acid that they use to mark their trails with. They lack the ability to spray this acid at enemies like skunks do, but they can do something just as extreme: retrace their own steps in pretty much any environment, so that they almost never get lost.
Judging by their looks and behavior, it's easy to confuse pangolins with armadillos and anteaters. They do eat ants and often referred to as "scaly anteaters". However, their proper Pangolin name originates from the word pengguling which means to "roll up" (they roll up into a tight ball when threatened).
Pangolin name hides another surprise: in Russian, various types of "Pangolin" family are translated as "Yascher" (Manis, genus of pangolins), which is an interesting word in itself. It's used to describe a giant lizard, or even a mythical dragon. Some theories link mythical "dragons" with pangolins: this kind of dragons would have scales and yet be essentially warm-blooded mammals, easier to relate to than cold reptiles.
The only mammal with keratin scales all over its body
There are eight different species of pangolin, some almost a meter long. They are found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia, with some species living in deep holes in the ground (like the Indian Pangolin), or preferring to live on trees. The Chinese and the Sunda Pangolin are particularly endangered, hunted and tragically close to extinction.
Here are some typical pangolin postures (a boon to photographers): resting in the palm of your hand, all rolled up, or wrapped around a tree (they can even strip a bark off a tree with their strong tail):
Self-Regenerating Armor and the Immense Coiled Tongue
Pangolin scales never stop growing, with new ones replacing the old continually (though their overall number remains the same). They are made from the same keratin that human fingernails are made of. Just like fingernails, these scales evolved from fused hairs, and so have nothing in common with the armored skin of reptiles, like say, crocodiles' bony "osteoderm" scales.
Pangolins have to eat small stones to help with digestion, because - another surprise - they have no teeth. They do, however, possess astonishing appetite, routinely eating up to 70 million insects in one year. Their tongue (which they share through convergent evolution with anteaters) can be as long as 40cm, half a meter long; it's unattached to the bone in their mouth and is folded deep inside the animal. Tongue out! -
Note the very prominent ear-hole: pangolin ear cavity looks remarkably like a rudimentary human ear, but unlike humans, they can close their ear and nostril cavities to protect themselves from ant bites.
Pangolin mother and baby: such an endearing pair! -
Baby Pangolin named Gurvinek learns to walk in a Russian household. Yana, the mother pangolin, was bought from street vendor in Vietnam (and saved from being eaten), brought to Moscow, where she gave birth to an adorable baby pangolin; read English translation of Tatiana Neklioudova's experience in taking care for this wonderful pair here.
One thing to note, "all of this was happening in the early 1990s and since then, pangolins have become more endangered and the laws have changed to protect them. Raising pangolins like this would not be possible today. They are NOT house pets. Pangolins should never be taken out of their environment to become pets."
Hunted, sold, cooked, and eaten - in staggering quantities
In China and many parts of Africa pangolin meat is considered a delicacy... plus their scales are sought-after for medicinal qualities. This reckless hunting is going on for centuries. For example, this early 19th century Rajastan armour coat is covered with the scales of pangolin, embellished with gold (originally it also came with a scale-covered helmet). This unique armour is on display in Leeds Royal Armouries, as it was presented to the King George III, back in 1820:
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