The three-cusped pangolin is a nocturnal species, which spends its days sheltering in tree hollows (2), curled up amongst epiphytes, or in the forked branch of a tree (4). At night, it departs from its shelter and commences its search for food. Occasionally, the three-cusped pangolin may also descend to the ground, where it walks on all fours or moves about balanced just on its hindlimbs (2). Like all pangolins, this species specialises in feeding on ants and termites (4), although other invertebrates may also be eaten (1). Thus it searches for hanging ant and termite nests, or attacks a column of insects as they march around a tree (4), detecting its prey primarily by scent (5). The clawed forefeet are proficient in tearing apart nests, and insects stick to its incredibly long tongue as it darts in and out of the passageways (5). The three-cusped pangolin has no teeth, so prey is swallowed whole and ground up in the muscular stomach (5).
Pangolins are generally solitary animals, only rarely seen in pairs. Typically, a single young is born in winter (5), after a gestation period of about 150 days (1). The newborn, whose scales do not harden until the second day of life, is then carried on the female’s back or tail (5).
Pangolins are relatively timid creatures, whose most efficient defence mechanism is to curl up into a tight ball. The sharp scales thus present an almost impenetrable wall, protecting the pangolin’s vulnerable, soft underparts (5). A female with a young will curl its body around its young, and the erected scales and twitches of the tail act to deter many predators (5).