1902 Encyclopedia > Pangolin


PANGOLIN. In Africa, India, and Malayana are found certain curious Mammals known to the Malays as Pangolins, to the English as Scaly Anteaters, and to naturalists by the scientific name of Manis. These animals, which, by a superficial observer, might be taken for reptiles rather than mammals, belong to the order Edentata, otherwise almost wholly confined to the New World, and containing, besides the Pangolins, the Sloths, Anteaters, Armadillos, and Aard Varks.

In size pangolins range from 1 to 3 feet in length, exclusive of the tail, which varies from much shorter than to nearly twice the length of the rest of the animal; their legs are short, so that the body is only a few inches off the ground ; their ears are very small; and their tongue is long and worm-like, and is used to catch ants with. Their most striking character, however, is their wonderful external coat of mail, composed of numerous broad over-lapping horny scales, which cover the whole animal, with the exception of the under surface of the body, and, in most species, of the lower part of the tip of the tail. Besides the scales there are generally, especially in the Indian species, a certain number of isolated hairs, which grow up between the scales, and are also scattered over the soft and flexible skin of the belly. There are five toes on each foot, the claws on the pollex and hallux rudi-mentary, but the others, especially the third of the fore-foot, long, curved, and laterally compressed. In walking the fore claws are turned backwards and inwards, so that the weight of the animal rests on their back and outer sur-faces, and their points are thus kept from becoming blunted.

Their skulls are long, smooth, and rounded, with imperfect zygomatic arches, no teeth of any sort, and, as in other ant-eating mammals, with the bony palate extending unusually far backwards towards the throat. The lower jaw consists of a pair of thin styliform bones anchylosed to each other at the chin, and rather loosely attached to the skull by a joint which, instead of being horizontal, is tilted up at an angle of 45°, the outwardly-twisted condyles articulating with the inner surfaces of the long glenoid processes, an arrangement quite unique among mammals, the sloths alone showing a slight tendency towards it. The other skeletal and anatomical characters have already been sufficiently described under MAMMALIA (vol. xv. p. 388).

The single genus Manis, which contains all the pangolins, may be conveniently divided into two groups, distinguished both by their geographical distribution and by certain convenient, though not highly important, external characters. (1) The Asiatic pangolins are charac-terized by having the central series of body-scales con-tinued quite to the extreme end of the tail, by having many isolated hairs growing up between the scales of the back, and by their small external ears. They all have a

White-bellied Pangolin (Manis tricuspis). small naked spot beneath the tip of the tail, which is said to be of service as an organ of touch. There are three species, viz., Manis javanica, ranging from Burmah, through Malacca and Java, to Borneo; M. aurifa, found in China, Formosa, and Nepal; and the common Indian Pangolin, M. pentadactyla, distributed over the whole of India and Ceylon. (2) The African species have the central series of scales suddenly interrupted and breaking into two at a point about 2 or 3 inches from the tip of the tail; they have no hair between the scales, and no external ear-conch. The following are the four species belonging to this group :—the Long-tailed Pangolin (M. macrura), which has a tail nearly twice as long as its body, and containing as many as forty-six caudal vertebras, nearly the largest number known among Mammals; the White-bellied Pangolin (M. tricuspis), closely allied to the last, but with longer and tricuspid scales, and white belly hairs (these two, like the Indian species, have a naked spot beneath the tail tip, a character probably correlated with the power of climbing, and they are, moreover, peculiar in having the outer sides of their fore legs clothed with hair, all the other species being scaly there as elsewhere); and the Short-tailed and the Giant Pangolins (M. temminchii and gigantea), both of which have their tails covered entirely with scales, and evidently never take to arboreal habits. All the four species of the second group are found in the West African region, one only, M. temminchii, extending besides into south and eastern equatorial Africa. The following account of the habits of Manis tricuspis is taken from Mr Louis Fraser's Zoologia Typica :—

"During my short residence at Fernando Po I succeeded in procuring two living specimens of this animal. The individuals, judging from the bones, were evidently not adult; the largest measured 30 inches in length, of which the head and body were 12 inches and the tail 18 inches. I kept them alive for about a week at Fernando Po, and allowed them the range of a room, where they fed upon a small black ant, which is very abundant and trouble- some in the houses and elsewhere. Even when first procured they displayed little or no fear, but continued to climb about the room without noticing my occasional entrance. They would climb up the somewhat roughly-hewn square posts which supported the building with great facility, and upon reaching the ceiling would return head foremost; sometimes they would roll themselves up into a ball and throw themselves down, and apparently without experiencing any inconvenience from the fall, which was in a measure broken upon reaching the ground by the semi-yielding scales, which were thrown into an erect position by the curve of the body of the animal. In climbing, the tail, with its strongly- pointed scales beneath, was used to assist the feet; and the grasp of the hind feet, assisted by the tail, was so powerful that the animal would throw the body back (when on the post) into a horizontal position, and sway itself to and fro, apparently taking pleasure in this kind of exercise. It always slept with the body rolled up ; and when in this position in a corner of the building, owing to the position and strength of the scales, and the power of the limbs combined, I found it impossible to remove the animal against its will, the points of the scales being inserted into every little notch and hollow of the surrounding objects. The eyes are very dark hazel, and very prominent. The colonial name for this species of Manis is 'Attaclillo,' and it is called by the Boobies, the natives of the island, 'Gahlah.' The flesh is said to be exceedingly good eating, and is in great request among the natives." (O. T.)

The above article was written by: Oldfield Thomas, British Museum.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries