Thick-tailed pangolin (Manis crassicaudata)

Also known as: Indian pangolin
French: Grand Pangolin De L’inde, Grand Pangolin De L'Inde, Pangolin À Grosse Queue
Spanish: Pangolín Indio
GenusManis (1)
SizeHead-body length: 60 – 75 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 – 45 cm (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The thick-tailed pangolin possesses some of the most effective armour in the mammalian world. Around 13 rows of sharp, moveable scales, which are shed periodically, cover its body (2) (4). The snout, the inside of the limbs and the underside of the body are unprotected, but the pangolin can roll up into a tight ball when threatened, thus ensuring only its scales are exposed. The thick-tailed pangolin also has three or four hairs in between each of its scales, providing protection from attacks from its primary prey – ants and termites (5). The thick-tailed pangolin is well adapted to this highly specialised diet, bearing three strong claws on each of the forelimbs to enable it to tear about termite mounds and ant nest (5), and a strong prehensile tail that is uses as support as it does so (4). It also has a remarkably long tongue, measuring up to 25 centimetres long, that is used to lick up its insect prey. Incredibly, the muscular tongue is anchored to the pangolin’s pelvis (5).

The thick-tailed pangolin's vocal expressions are limited to loud hisses when agitated, so instead it uses its acute sense of smell in communication. Faeces and urine are spread around the territory to advertise its sexual status, and possibly also so that other individuals may recognise it (4).

The thick-tailed pangolin occurs in Bangladesh, India (south of the Himalayas), Sri Lanka, and small areas of Pakistan (1). 

This peculiar scaly mammal occupies grasslands, rainforest and barren hilly areas(4). It is also able to exist in modified habitats, provided there is an abundance of termites and ants (1).

The diet of the thick-tailed pangolin consists of ants and termites, and it has some very effective tools to allow it to hunt these tough little insects. The strong claws on its forelimbs are used to hack into termite mounds and ants nests, but also allow the pangolin to climb trees to feed on harder to reach ants (5). It has a strong prehensile tail that provides support when feeding (4), and an extraordinarily long, sticky tongue, which flicks through the passageways of the nest picking up ants or termites (5). When feeding, this pangolin is capable of closing not only its eyes, with thick eyelids, but also its nostrils and ears, to protect these delicate parts from biting ants. The thick-tailed pangolin has no teeth, but instead has small pebbles in its stomach to grind up food for digestion (5).

The thick-tailed pangolin is only active at night, spending the day in a burrow, which is often situated under large rocks. It is a solitary species except for during the mating season when an adult male and female may share the same burrow (1). The female’s gestation period is around 65 to 70 days and, after birth, the single offspring (occasionally twins) will remain in the mother’s burrow for 2 to 4 weeks(1) (4). The young is then carried out on the mother’s back or tail outside, where it will remain until it is weaned after three months. It is not known if male thick-tailed pangolins play any role in bringing up the young (4).

The main threat to the thick-tailed pangolin is hunting, which is thought to be causing numbers to decline (1). It is hunted for its scales, which are believed by some to have so-called medicinal and aphrodisiac properties; for its leathery skin, which is used to make goods such as boots and shoes; and for its meat (1) (5).

The thick-tailed pangolin is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3), and in 2000, the CITES authority passed a zero export quota, which prevents the commercial trade in this species (1). It is also protected by wildlife laws in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (1), although as hunting remains the primary threat to this species it is clear that such laws are not enforced as strongly as they need to be. Thankfully, the Pangolin Conservation Support Initiative is working to raise awareness of this illegal trade by supporting organisations that are running pangolin conservation programmes (6).

To learn more about the Pangolin Conservation Support Initiative see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
  2. Prater, S.H. (1965) The Book of Indian Animals. Diocesan Press, India.
  3. CITES (May, 2010)
  4. Madonald, D.W. (2000) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. SavePangolins (May, 2010)