Pangolins are renowned for their inconspicuous traits – being highly nomadic, solitary, nocturnal and secretive, and hiding underground much of their lives. Field guides can sometimes go for years without spotting one. However, at Arathusa we’ve been fortunate enough to catch more than one sighting of these critters.
The change of season from winter to spring is usually an opportune time for seeing pangolins. The cooler temperatures result in fewer ants and termites being seen, which in turn forces the pangolins to get out of their ‘comfort zones’ in search of food. We’ve been fortunate having spotted two individuals from two distinct species. This of course presented fantastic photographic opportunities for our guests.
The pangolins spent most of their time digging for ants with their powerful claws. Once they locate the ant or termite nests using their highly keen sense of smell, they tuck straight in with eyes, ears and nose shut to prevent soil particles from entering. They use their long sticky tongue deploy to lap up ant or termite eggs, larvae and adults.
Some interesting facts:
- The name, “pangolin”, is derived from the Malay word “pengguling”, which loosely translates to “something that rolls up”.
- There’s been little research on pangolins as they are rarely observed due to their secretive, solitary, and nocturnal habits.
- Pangolins’ scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails. Their scales cover the entire body from the head to the tip of their tail — except for their tender undersides, which are covered with a few sparse hairs.
- When pangolins feel threatened, they curl up into a tight, almost impenetrable ball to protect their tender undersides.
- Pangolins do not have teeth and are unable to chew. Instead, they have long sticky tongues that they use to catch the insects they feed on.
- The pangolin’s tongues are rooted in their pelvic region, that means its total length exceeds that of the head and body put together (50cm plus).
- Pangolins are known to move, every week or so, to a new den site within their territory range, allowing ants (and to a lesser extent termites) to recover from foraging pressures.
It’s anybody’s guess when next we might be fortunate enough to see one. One thing’s for sure – we all cannot wait!
Till next time,
Ranger Jamie Sangster