Pangolins feed on nonpoisonous insects, primarily ants and termites. These creatures usually hunt insects that live in nests rather than pursuing individual bugs, since raiding a nest offers a higher calorie payoff and requires less energy expenditure. Pangolins must consume small insects because they have no teeth. Their stomachs, which are lined in keratin spikes and contain small stones, grind food as they digest it.
The pangolin is a relative of the anteater. Its scaly, protective shell is made of keratin, the same proteins that make up human fingernails, and comprises 20 percent of the animal's body weight. The pangolin is a part of the mammalian order and exists primarily in sandy locations in Africa and some parts of Asia. There are three types of pangolin: those that live on the ground, which are the most common; those that live in trees; and giant pangolins. These creatures hear and see well, but their vision is weak. It relies on its sense of smell to catch its food with its giant sticky tongue.
These mammals supplement their insect diets with opportunistic finds such as crickets, many varieties of worms including earthworms, flies and bee larvae. Because of the variety of bugs pangolins consume, they are difficult to keep in captivity since they often reject or are made sick by unfamiliar foods. Pangolins become accustomed to the insects found in their natural habitat, which differ slightly between their two primary locations of Africa and Asia.
A pangolin locates its meal using a keen sense of smell. It invades the nests of its prey using a long, sticky tongue covered in mucous that laps bugs back up into the animal's mouth. Pangolins also use the long, strong claws on their front feet to dig deeper into nests so they can access more insects. The tongue serves as their primary hunting tool since it can grow to be 16 inches long. Pangolins have been known to burrow into the soil hoping to intersect insect nests.
Role in the Ecosystem
Because they feed almost exclusively on insects, pangolins play an essential role in keeping these populations under control. According to the Save Pangolins organization, an average adult pangolin eats more than 70 million individual insects each year, meaning that if they were removed from a particular habitat, insect populations could rise and upset the delicate balance of the local ecosystem.
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