Pangolins are peculiar and beautiful animals, we could even think they come from an imaginary world, but they are for real. They are the only mammals covered by overlapping scales (made from keratin — the same protein that forms human hair and fingernails). They are toothless, have poor vision, and an acute olfactory system.
Nowadays, 8 different pangolin species can be found across Asia (4) and Africa (4), living in a variety of habitats, including tropical and flooded forests, thick brush, cleared and cultivated areas, and savannah grasslands. Pangolins are mostly nocturnal (the only exception being the long-tailed pangolin) and the species vary in size from about 1.6 kg to a maximum of about 33 kg. Pangolin limbs are stout and well adapted for digging. Each paw has five toes, and their forefeet have three long and curved claws which are used to dig nesting and sleeping burrows and demolish the nests of termites and ants, their “favorite meal”. To capture the insects, they use a long and sticky tongue. Their insatiable appetite gives them an important role in their ecosystem as pest control. Estimations indicate that one adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually!
Although pangolins share similar characteristics with anteaters, armadillos, and sloths (Xenarthrans), they are in fact more closely related to the order Carnivora (cats, dogs, bears, etc.). These lineages diverged ∼56.8–67.1 million years ago.
Sadly, pangolins are the most poached and trafficked mammal in the world due to the huge demand of their meat as a delicacy and their scales for their supposed medicinal proprieties. In addition, habitat loss has made these incredible creatures one of the most threatened groups of mammals in the world.