This scale-covered mammal repels predators by curling into a tight ball and erecting its sharp spines that are made of the same hardened protein that makes up fingernails.
A pangolin has at least 18 rows of overlapping scales that continue to grow throughout its life because they are constantly filed down when the animal moves around. This scaly mammal is incredibly well adapted for digging and can excavate a burrow nearly three metres (eight feet) deep in five minutes.
To find underground insects like termites and ants to feast on, it uses its long tongue to scoop the juicy insects into its toothless mouth.
The tongue can reach 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length, which is two thirds of its 60-centimetre (24-inch) body. Though the mouth contains no teeth, pangolins crush their food with teeth in the lining of their stomachs. The pangolin’s ‘C’ shaped stomach is equipped with horned points to help grind down the insects. These stomach teeth are surrounded by thick layers of strong muscle that contract to mash the pangolin’s meal into an easily digestible pulp. Pangolins also ingest small rocks to speed up the digestion process, helping it absorb as much nutrition as possible.
As well as digesting insects efficiently, the pangolin’s stomach also acts as a buoyancy device. Before entering water this bizarre mammal fills its stomach with air to keep it afloat, then kicks its feet leisurely to propel itself forwards. Similarly to skunks, pangolins have foul-smelling acid they can secrete from the anus to fend off attackers, though they can’t spray this fluid outwards.
Learn about 9 other weird mammals in issue 14 of World of Animals magazine, including the antelope with a trunk on its face, the primate that freezes when startled and nature’s ventriloquist act, the snub-nosed monkey.