The Scaly Anteater
With eight different species found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, pangolins or “scaly anteaters” are nocturnal, solitary, and often quite secretive creatures. All species share the characteristic of thick, armour-like scales, but despite their scaly appearance they are actually mammals, and their scales are made from keratin—the same protein that forms human hair and fingernails. These scales make up 20% of their bodyweight and are able to cut anything inserted between them, so the pangolin’s first line of defence is to roll up into a tight ball. Their diet is mainly composed of ants and termites, and because they have poor eyesight, they use their strong sense of smell to locate nests and reach into them with their amazingly long and sticky tongues. In some places, pangolins are thought to be purveyors of magic and charms—the scales are thought to neutralise evil spirits, keep predators away or call down rains—but this poaching, along with trafficking and habitat loss, is posing a serious threat to these weird but wonderful creatures. Several species are listed as endangered, and several more as threatened. Want to help?
(Image Credit: 1, 2, 3)