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Ground pangolin (Manis temminckii)

12 July 2016



Physical description

Unmistakable as it is covered with armour of heavy, yellow-brown scales. It has a small head with a pointed muzzle and the sides of the faces are not covered with scales. Eyes are small and set on the sides of the head with eyelids with a few fringing hairs. Curly hairs scattered on the skin and under parts which have no scales. Tail is broad and the skin under the scales is black to dark grey. The limbs covered with small scales. The extremely long, three-part tongue of 250 to 400 mm extends into the abdominal cavity and folds into a pouch in the throat. Male weighs around 13.3 kg, but the males are larger and heavier than the females.

Ground pangolin size versus a human            Ground pangolin print



Area and habitat

Four species of pangolin in Africa, of which only the ground pangolin Manis temminckii occurs in sandy savanna habitats in southern Africa but it is absent from wetlands, forests and true deserts.





Independent of surface water. Move about between different burrows within well-defined ranges. Mainly nocturnal in activity but subadults are sometimes active before sunset and after sunrise. Will move up to 6.2 km per night. Forage alone for food. When they walk, they are balanced on the hind feet with the forefeet and tail held above the ground. They check for danger by raising the body up on their hind feet to a nearly vertical position to sniff the wind. When touched, a pangolin rapidly curls into a tight ball with its head inside the ball, the tough scales providing protection and the tail curled tightly around the outside of the ball.




Sniffs around quite noisily for food. Primary food resource is the pugnacious ant Anoplolepis custodiens which hibernates deep below the soil surface in the cold of winter. Other food resources include a wide variety of ants and termites but pangolins spend 96.7 per cent of their feeding time on ants and only 3.3 per cent on termites. Will open up underground ant or termite galleries with their claws. The long tongue is then inserted into the opened gallery and they feed up to 38 mm deep.

Mean weight of male: 13.3 kg
Tongue lenght: 250 to 400 mm
Life expectancy: 20 years


Little known about reproduction. Mating probably occurs in late summer to early autumn. Births from July to August. Male has no scrotum. At sexual maturity the testes pass through an inguinal (groin) canal to an enlarged fold of skin at its proximal end. During copulation male mounts the female from the side while they entwine their tails. Gestation lasts ±139 days. At birth a pangolin weighs 340 g. Young pangolins shelter under their mothers until they become too large to do so.


Besides humans, main predators of pangolins are lions, tigers and leopards.



Interesting facts:

  • Not known to dig their own burrows, rests in shelters such as disused aardvark, springhare or warthog burrows.
  • They can climb well and will surmount netting fences of 1 m tall.
  • Capable of forcing their bodies through small openings.
  • Can swim well.
  • A pangolin has a fragile mandible with no teeth and most of the food is masticated in the muscular stomach.

Read the full article written by Prof J du P Bothma.



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