The Pangolin

Pangolins are cool, but man, are they weird.

Really weird.
Really weird.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s a goofier Sandslash – it totally is.

sandslash

The pangolin is far more than just scales and being beaten by Water-Types, though. It’s got all kinds of tricks up its heavily-armoured sleeves.

For starters, the armour itself. Pangolins are covered in thick scales made of keratin – the same stuff that makes hair, nails, rhino horns and other stylish mammalian outerwear. The scales interlock to create a suit of armour that goddamn lions can’t get through, which, since they are found in Asia and Africa, is pretty nifty.

Notice how the fucking pride of lions is not currently eating the pangolin.
Notice how the fucking pride of lions in this photo are not currently eating the pangolin.

They can also roll into an almost perfect ball to avoid exposing any weak points to a predator, which you can see above, but here’s another photo anyway because honestly, how cute are they?

I want to hug it, even though that would be a terrible idea.
I want to hug it, even though that would be a terrible idea.

The name “pangolin” even comes from a Malay word, “pengguling” meaning “something that rolls up”.

I’m sensing some trepidation here. There must be a catch, right? This animal isn’t terrifying at all!

It must be awful to be right all the time.

The pangolin is not the scariest thing to us, but to its prey, it acts pretty much like fucking Godzilla. The pangolin eats ants and termites, which it unearths using its comically enormous earth-rending claws, shown here in a picture of a pangolin descending onto an urban center full of terrified ants.

A bug;s Life would have been a very different film with this thing in it.
A Bug’s Life would have been a very different film with this thing in it.

Once it’s torn the nest wide open, the pangolin uses a long sticky tongue (that can be as long as its entire body) to whip around the inside of the nest, into every nook and hollow, hoovering up ants wherever they try to hide. When the ants fight back, the pangolin’s scales, sealable ears and nostrils, and immensely thick eyelids prevent them from doing any damage. It seals up every weakness, and then annihilates the ants.

Rare footage from inside the ant's nest after the pangolin attack.
Rare footage from inside the ant’s nest during a pangolin attack.

There’s a reason I’m picking such a cute animal and pretending it’s scary this post instead of just picking any one of the actually scary animals out there: the pangolin is in real trouble.

It’s one of the most hunted animals in the world, with people killing them for their armour (which they use to make hideous clothing) or to break the scales up and sell them as a snake-oil miracle cure for everything from baldness to cancer. Their meat is prized, and their habitat is being destroyed.

All 8 species are listed as “Threatened with Extinction” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – but all is not lost. The little goofballs have their own awareness day (World Pangolin Day, 21st Feb) and a charity dedicated to helping them – savepangolins.org.

You should check them out. The world’s better with little armoured, tongue-as-long-as-their-body, ant-terrorising mini-T-Rex walking pinecones in it. Its weirder and more interesting and just better.

Above: adorable, and only deadly if you're a termite.
Above: adorable, and only deadly if you’re a termite.