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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 18:42 EDT

Tree Pangolin, Manis tricuspis

The tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) is one of eight species of pangolin, or “scaly anteater”, in existence. It is also known as white-bellied pangolin or three-cusped pangolin. There are currently two subspecies of the tree pangolin, the most abundant of forest pangolins in Africa.

This species is native to equatorial areas of Africa, and its range extends from Guinea through Sierra Leone, and from West Africa to Central Africa. Its eastern range reaches as far as southwestern Kenya and northwestern Tanzania, while its southern range extends through northern Angola and northwestern Zambia. Even with this extensive range, it has not been found in The Gambia or Guinea-Bissau or in Senegal. The tree pangolin prefers lowland tropical moist forests, as well as savannah or forest areas. It is thought that it can slightly adapt to habitat modifications.

Tree pangolins are able to move about by walking on all fours, walking on two hind limbs, and by climbing trees. When walking on two feet, it will use its prehensile tail to aid in balance. It is also skilled in swimming, and will fill its belly with air in order to float better. The tree pangolin is nocturnal, and as such, has poor eyesight. Its sense of smell, however, is very well developed.

When threatened, the tree pangolin may let out a foul odor, much like a skunk, using scent glands located around the anus to secrete the stinky substance. It will also curl itself into a ball, using its muscles to move its sharp scales in a cutting motion. Mothers will protect their young in this way, rolling around them as they also curl into a defensive ball as well. It may also emit a huff noise, and this is its only vocalization.

Male tree pangolins hold a much larger territory than females, who hold areas of up to ten acres, reaching up to sixty acres. These territories often overlap, and as a result, and these encounters are short lived, unless the female is in estrous. Pregnancy can last up to 150 days and a typical litter holds a single baby pangolin. These babies are born with soft scales that harden over a few days, and will spend three months attached to their mother’s tail, after which they are weaned and may spend another two months with their mother. In captivity, female pangolins have been known to adopt babies from different mother pangolins.

Tree pangolins will use stones and sand within their stomachs to digest food, rather than using teeth. Its diet consists of insects like ants on trees, and termites within nests. It can eat up to seven ounces of food a day, using its ten to twenty-seven inch tongue to funnel insects into the mouth. The tongue, when not in use, is “sheathed” in a chest cavity that reaches the pelvic region.

Due to extensive hunting for use in traditional medicines and bushmeat practices, the tree pangolin is dwindling in population number. Conservationists have found that these numbers have decreased from 20 to 25 percent in the past three pangolin generations, or fifteen years, and that tree pangolin meat is the most abundant in markets. Because of this, the conservation status of the tree pangolin is “Near Threatened”.

Image Caption: Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) in central Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: Valerius Tygart/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tree Pangolin Manis tricuspis