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the web of life in southern Africa

Manis temminckii (Ground pangolin)

Cape pangolin, scaly anteater, Temminck's pangolin [English];  ietermagog [Afrikaans]; Steppenschuppentier [German]; pangolin de Temminck [French]; kakakuona [Swahili]; inkakha [isiNdebele]; kgaga [Sepedi] [Sesotho] [Setswana]; haka, hambakubvu [Shona]; imfinyezi [siSwati]; xikwaru [Xitsonga]; khwara [Tshivenda]; nake [Lozi]; unkaka [Yei]; || Khommi [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae

Manis temminckii (Ground pangolin)

Ground pangolin, Photographed in captivity in Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Manis temminckii (Ground pangolin)

Ground pangolin, near Hotazel, Northern Cape,  South Africa. [photo Neil Gray ]


The pangolin cannot be mistaken for any other animal with its horny covering of overlapping scales on the head, body, outer surface of the limbs and the tail. The brown scales consist of agglutinated hair and are shaped like artichoke leaves. They grow from the thick underlying skin and are shed and replaced periodically. Smaller scales occur on the limbs and the top of the head. The underparts of the animal are sparely covered with hair. The pangolin has an elongated tapered body shape with a small, pointed head. The short forelimbs are short and the hindlimbs are large and powerful. The tail is long and heavy.

The large digging claws tucked up under the forefeet makes the pangolin walk slowly on the outer edges of their feet with a shuffling gait. They can move more swiftly by running on their hindlegs using the tail and forelimbs for balance


Body Length 70-100 cm; weight range 5 – 15 kg

Distribution and habitat

Widely distributed is southern African subregion north of the Orange River. Occurs in open grassland, woodland, and rocky hills, in both high and low rainfall areas.

General behaviour

When threatened or alarmed the pangolin may run away or my roll itself into a tight ball with its scales as protective shield for its head and underparts.

Pangolins are solitary, and usually nocturnal with occasional daytime activity. They may excavate their own burrows but often use the burrows of other animals (e.g. springhare or aardvark) or simply curl up in dense vegetation or leaf litter.


Pangolins are specialized to eat only ants and termites. Their very long narrow sticky tongues are specifically adapted for probing into ant and termite nests. The tongue is connected at its base to a posterior extension of the sternum. A sticky viscous saliva is secreted onto the tongue by a large salivary gland situated in the chest cavity. Their skull has not teeth or any chewing muscles. They have a specially adapted gizzard-like stomach that grinds up the ants. They use their powerful claws to break into ant and termite mounds. Special muscles close the nostrils while feeding and the thick eyelids protect the eyes from the ants.

Predators, parasites and commensals

Few natural predators, only hyaena and lion are able to penetrate the scale defense.


After a gestation period of about 139 days, a single young is born underground in a burrow that may be several metres deep. At birth their scales are small and soft. They are first taken outside riding on their mother’s tail at 2 – 4 weeks. If the mother is alarmed she will often curl up encircling her baby. Life span: 13 years (in captivity).


Pangolins are victims of the bushmeat trade and their scales are used as traditional medicine. Conservation status is classed as Lower risk, near threatened.

Text by Denise Hamerton