From its big, long tail to its wee, little head. From its stumpy legs to its clunking tail. All is encompassed in an incredible suit of armour.
The Pangolin appears ancient and just a little bit dangerous. More dangerous than your average pinecone, anyway.
There are 8 species of Pangolin. Some live in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, others in India, China and down through to Malaysia and Thailand. Some climb trees, others prefer the ground. The smallest might be just 30 cm (1 foot) long, the biggest well over a metre (3.3 feet). But they all have much in common.
huge claws on their front paws, used to crack open ant nests and termite mounds. They don't have teeth, but rely instead on a ridiculously long tongue and sticky saliva to slurp up the usual inhabitants of ant nests and termite mounds. Ants, termites and tax inspectors.
But how long does a tongue have to be before it passes through impressive and ends up at ridiculous?
Well, a really big Pangolin can have a tongue about as long as an entire small Pangolin. A 30 cm (1 foot) long tongue! When not in use, they can't even store the entire length of it in their mouth; it has to extend all the way down into their chest. I think that's ridiculous!
Food is found using a great sense of smell. Their eyesight is no great shakes and they're also nocturnal. It works out fine since their munch 'ems won't be going far.
Pangolins also needn't concern themselves much with the world around them, the reason being that extraordinary scaly armour. It looks tough as nails, and it is indeed made of keratin. Those scales are also sharp so when they roll themselves into a ball, predators are faced not just with armour, but PAINFUL armour! It's like an armadillo and a hedgehog rolled into one. And then rolled into a ball.
Pangolins can walk on all fours, but to do so they curl up their front paws so those all important claws don't get blunt or damaged.
They can also be used to climb up trees. Tree-dwelling Pangolins have a strong, prehensile tail and claws on their hind paws to help out. With these grappling hooks they can climb straight up a tree trunk, no need for branches. Or ladders. Or stairs.
|Image: kibuyu via Flickr|
You know what else is strange? Big, ground living Pangolins have columnar hind legs, like a miniature elephant. That's just so weird!
Pangolins give birth to 1 to 3 young at a time. Babies cling onto Mother's tail if she's in the trees or remain in a burrow for the ground-dwellers.
If danger lurks, she will have to protect her defenceless sprogs by rolling around them. The youngsters have their scales, but they are soft at birth and take time to harden. I think on balance the mother is extremely grateful for that.