pangolin (păng-gōˈlĭn) [key], armored, toothless mammal of tropical Asia and Africa. Pangolins range in length from 3 to 6 ft (90–180 cm) including the long, broad tail. Their snouts are narrow and pointed. The body is low to the ground and is covered with large, triangular, overlapping scales on the back, the sides, the outer sides of the limbs, and the entire tail. The belly is covered with sparse hair. When threatened, the animal rolls into a ball and erects the scales, points upward, so that it resembles a large pinecone. It also secretes a foul-smelling liquid. Pangolins, also called scaly anteaters, break open logs with their large, powerful claws and use their exceedingly long, slender tongues to lap up the insects on which they feed. Members of some species are tree dwellers and have prehensile, or grasping, tails; others are terrestrial. Pangolins are not closely related to any other living mammals, and their ancestry is not known. There are seven species, all of the genus Manis. In Africa, large numbers of pangolins are killed for their meat and scales by the local inhabitants, and the future of one species, the Cape pangolin, is seriously endangered. Unless protected, the future of three Asian pangolins is also uncertain. They are classified as phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, family Manidae, order Pholidota.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.