If you have seen one of these little scaly creatures on the bustling streets of Singapore, then know that first, you are incredibly lucky. These little critters are almost as rare as legendary Pokémons in the real world – definitely not like their in-game doppelganger Sandshrew. And second, you are still incredibly lucky. You just got the chance to appear in the headlines—if you call Acres, the Straits Times and stay for whatever lucky-passer-by-who-happened-to-chance-on-news-worthy-material do next.
Here are 7 interesting facts about pangolins (so that you don’t appear totally clueless about the animal that you just rescued when you appear on national TV).
1. Pangolins are the only mammals in the world with scales
Pangolins’ scales are made of keratin, the same material that our nails, rhino horns and bird talons are made of. The scales are very tough and can protect pangolins from predators—even lions are unable to bite through this armour of theirs.
2. Pangolins have poor eyesight
7 out of 8 species of pangolins are nocturnal and they have very small eyes relative to their body size. Their eyesight is so poor that pangolins simply locate ant hills and termite mounds with their sensitive sense of smell and hearing.
3. A pangolin’s tongue is really long and useful
The pangolin’s tongue is so long that it is anchored to the pelvic bone.
Pangolins use their tongue to collect insects – up to 70 million crawlies a year—which are then mashed up in their stomachs by stones, because pangolins do not have teeth.
4. Do not mess with a pangolin’s claws
Pangolins are able to dig through even concrete with their large, curved claws, and sometimes dig holes so big that even humans can stand in them.
4. Dating is tough
Pangolins are mostly solitary animals, have no defined mating season, and are so rare that if 2 pangolins of opposite sex meet each other, it must be divine appointment. And it doesn’t help that all that the male pangolin does is pee on its territory and hope that a female will one day find him. Has anyone ever told him that sitting around ain’t gonna get him his girl?
5. Pangolins are related to some of the fiercest predators you know
Scientists have changed their minds about the taxonomy of pangolins. It was previously believed that pangolins belong to the Xenarthra family, which makes them related to armadillos, sloths and anteaters. However, pangolins are now classified under the Carnivora family, which includes bears, wolves and hyenas.
6. Pangolins’ name has a Southeast Asian origin
Pangolins get their name from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for rolling up—the action a pangolin takes in self-defence. However, this escapist approach is apparently not working very well, seeing that Pangolins are one of the most vulnerable animals in the world.
7. Pangolins are in danger
That’s right, out of the 8 species of pangolins, 2 of them are critically endangered, which makes them even more endangered than giant pandas.
Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals on the planet. Their scales are believed to have medicinal properties in traditional medicine, supposedly helping to reduce bleeding and helping lactating women to produce more milk, and their meat is considered a delicacy. On the black market, pangolin scales can fetch as high a price as $3,000 a kilogram.
Thankfully, commercial trade in Pangolin – even for traditional medicine—has been banned in many countries starting September 2016, unless proper permits are obtained.
To end off, here are some cute illustrations about pangolins. The original Chinese version can be found here.