Pangolins are the only mammal in the world to be covered from head to toe in scales. They eat over 70 million insects yearly. But, pangolins are famous for something very strange in recent times. The nucleic acid sequence of a specific receptor-binding domain of the spike protein belonging to coronaviruses taken from pangolins was found to be a 99% match with SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus which causes COVID-19 and is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers in Guangzhou, China, hypothesised that SARS-CoV-2 had originated in bats and, prior to infecting humans, was circulating among pangolins.
The research created a narrative of blame game in media and pangolins were blamed for Coronavirus. But is it so?
Covid-19 or Coronavirus spread was due to the the illicit Chinese trade of pangolins. The humans were at fault and not this wonderful animal. That being said, let’s explore interesting facts about Pangolins.
- The Pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, is the only mammal in the world to be wrapped from head to toe in keratin scales (the same as human fingernails). These scales account for up to 20% of a Pangolin’s complete weight.
- There are eight species of Pangolin. Four are found in Asia: the Chinese, the Malayan, the Indian, and the Palawan Pangolin. Four in Africa: the Tree Pangolin, the Giant Ground Pangolin, the Cape Pangolin, and the Long-tailed Pangolin.
- They occupy tropical forests, dry woodlands, and the savannah. Some pangolins spend their time up in trees and others relax in burrows underground.
- They are about the size of a small cat, are wrapped in brown scales, and have long, strong tails that can be used as a weapon.
- The name Pangolin is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’, which means ‘rolling up’. This is a reference to the animal’s defense mechanism of turning up into a tight little hardened ball when they are under menace.
- Rolling up forms a hard, spiky, compact ball that can defeat even the jaws of lions, tigers, and leopards. However, by cruel chance, it is this same defense mechanism that makes human capturing of the pangolins as easy as picking up a ball.
- Like a skunk, pangolins can release a noxious- smelling acid to hinder predators.
- Pangolins have a long vicious tongue that grows from deep inside their chest cavity and can extend to over 40cm, which is longer than its own body! This tongue is an excellent tool for catching insects. One Pangolin is estimated to catch a massive 70 million a year.
- With no teeth, and unable to chew, the insects are broken up by stones and keratin spines located inside their stomachs.
- It is unknown how long pangolins live because captivity is traumatic for pangolins ending in stress, depression, and early unfortunate death. However, the oldest recorded Pangolin in captivity died at 19 years old.
- They are nocturnal, solitary animals with very poor eyesight. Their sensation of smell and sound is supreme and is used to hunt out termite mounds and anthills.
- Cute pangolin pups hitch a ride on their mother’s tails for three months and remain in their mother’s care for five months before confronting life alone.
- In some pangolin species, the male can be up to 90% thicker than females. This type of irregular weight is called being ‘sexually dimorphic’.