Tree Pangolin

This photograph shows a mounted Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). This scaly mammal is part of the Natural Sciences collection held at the Booth Museum of Natural History.

You can read more about the pangolin and why we shouldn’t blame it for Covid-19 on our blog.

What can we see?


Pangolins are the only scaly mammals (armadillos have a hard bony shell covered in scutes like a crocodile). Their scales are made of keratin, which is the same material your fingernails and hair are made of. These particular pangolins have scales that are recognisable from other pangolins as they have three points on the edge of each scale. This is where their latin name ‘tricuspis’ comes from. The scales on pangolins protect them from predators.


The pangolin has a very long, sticky tongue (recreated on this early 20th century specimen in wire) which it extends down into an ants nest. The ants get stuck to the tongue as it is withdrawn and they’re devoured. The tongue is so long it extends deep down into the chest of the pangolin, and in some some species it even reaches their pelvis!


The underbelly of a pangolin is free of scales and is hairy. This is one of the features that marks it out as a mammal as only mammals have true hair.

To protect their soft, un-armoured bellies from predators, pangolins curl up into a ball. This is where their name comes from: the Malay word for ‘one who rolls up’ is pengguling.


Tree pangolins have a very strong prehensile tail. This is used to cling onto branches while they are climbing trees, much like a monkey. They use the tail to hang in front of ants nests in trees while they feed upon the ants inside. The strong muscles in the tail also prevent most predators from being able to open them up when in their defensive ball posture.

Author: Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences


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