Black-bellied pangolin (Uromanis tetradactyla)

Also known as: Long-tailed pangolin
  
French: Pangolin À Longue Queue, Pangolin Tétradactyle
Spanish: Pangolín De Cola Larga
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPholidota
FamilyManidae
GenusUromanis (1)
SizeLength: 30 – 35 cm (2)
Tail length: 50 – 60 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The remarkable black-bellied pangolin is the smallest and most arboreal pangolin species (1) (2). Like other pangolins, most of this species’ head, body and tail are covered with horny, overlapping scales (4). The only regions that do not possess this extensive armouring are the sides of the face and snout, the inner surfaces of the limbs, and the throat and belly (5). Superbly adapted for climbing, the black-bellied pangolin possesses an extremely long, prehensile tail with a bare patch at the tip, which has a sensory role as well as aiding grip (4) (6). Incredibly, the tail contains between 46 and 47 vertebrae, a record among mammals, and is strong enough to take the black-bellied pangolin’s entire body weight while dangling from tree branches (4) (7). The black-bellied pangolin’s head is small and pointed, with the eyes protected by thick eyelids, and although lacking teeth, pangolins possess an extremely long, thin tongue, which can extend to about 25 centimetres and is used to capture food (5).

The black-bellied pangolin has a large range extending from Sierra Leone in West Africa, eastwards through most of the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea to Cameroon, and possibly also the Central African Republic. The core of its range lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Congo, and may extend as far south as north-west Angola (1).

The black-bellied pangolin chiefly occupies moist tropical forest around rivers and swamps, although in Nigeria it has been found in secondary forest and in areas of lowland rainforest converted to farmland (1).

Probably the least known of all pangolin species, the black-bellied pangolin spends almost its entire life in the trees (1), but will occasionally descend into pools and rivers, where it is a competent swimmer (6). While most pangolins are nocturnal (5), the black-bellied pangolin is also frequently active during the day, enabling it to forage without facing competition from the larger, tree-dwelling three-cusped pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) (4). The black-bellied pangolin uses scent to locate ant nests in the trees, which it pulls apart using its large foreclaws, while its long, sticky tongue flicks in out of the nest’s passageways, snaring the ants and drawing them into its mouth. Because it lacks teeth, the black-bellied pangolin swallows prey whole, and the muscular, horny coated walls of its stomach grind the food (5).

Little is currently known about the black-bellied pangolin’s breeding behaviour. The young are generally born between November and March after a gestation period of about 140 days (1). Only a single offspring is produced, which is carried on the mother’s tail for around three months before weaning (4).

When threatened, pangolins curl up into a tight ball, concealing their unprotected, scaleless parts, and becoming almost impossible to unroll. They may also squirt a foul-smelling substance from their anal glands (5).

The main threat to the black-bellied pangolin, and indeed all pangolins, is hunting, both for meat and for use in traditional medicine (5). Although the black-bellied pangolin is less frequently hunted than some other species, the growing demand for bushmeat may cause this species to become increasingly targeted. Due to its large range, it has previously been assumed that the black-bellied pangolin has a relatively large population. Nevertheless, with limited data collected from the field, it is possible that the black-bellied pangolin is actually rarer than reports suggest, and the effects of increased hunting pressure could have serious implications for its survival (1).

The black-bellied pangolin is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade in this species is strictly regulated (1) (3). In addition, this species occurs in a number of protected areas, such as Ituri Forest Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1). While these areas are vital for protecting threatened wildlife, many are faced with the continual problems of illegal logging, mining and encroachment of agriculture, and are continually in need of funding to develop and enforce the protective measures that they employ (1) (8).

To support the efforts of conservationists working to protect pangolins see:

To find out more about conservation of African wildlife visit:

Authenticated (11/03/2009) by Chao, Jung-Tai, Ph.D. Chair of the former IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group and Senior Scientist, Taiwan Forestry Research Institute.
jtchao@tfri.gov.tw

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Carwardine, M. (1995) The Guinness book of Animal Records. Guinness Publishing Ltd., London.
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. BBC (December, 2008)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/624.shtml
  7. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  8. UNESCO World Heritage (December, 2008)
    http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/718