Science //


Sorcha McGee sniffs out a small but mischievous mammal.

Photo by 'Veracious jess'
Photo by ‘Veracious jess’

The Pangolin looks like a larger, walking version of the acorns you used to throw at your brother at the bus stop because he kept calling you pork-chop. They have an itsy-bitsy head, a very large tail and scales that make them look not unlike a reptile. They are, however, mammals. Badass mammals.

Their scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes our nails. When they’re threatened they roll up into a protective ball. If the cutting action of their armoured plated scales isn’t enough to convince other animals that they are messing with the wrong mother f*ckers, however, they have another defence. Chemical warfare if you will. Scent glands near their rear ends emit secretions more foul smelling than Justin Bieber’s ‘Someday’ perfume.

Pangolin tongues extend all the way into their abdominal cavity and are coated with a gummy mucus that makes ants and other insects stick. They sleep during the day and swagger around solitarily at night. The James Deans of the animal kingdom.

Pangolins have so much charm, in fact, that they are considered in some parts of the globe to be purveyors of charms and magic. If their scales are mixed with bark from certain trees, they are thought to neutralise witchcraft. If buried near a man’s house, a lady with a romantic inclination will gain an intoxicating power over her chosen suitor. Their scales are also burnt to keep wild animals away; Judy Garland could have used them to keep away the lions and tigers and bears. Oh my, that was a terrible reference.

The powers they purportedly possess, along with the fact they are hunted for meat in Africa and considered a delicacy in China, means bad news for these little troopers though. Numbers of pangolins are dwindling dramatically.

In 2010 pangolins made the Zoological Society of London’s list of endangered and genetically distinct animals. And that, ladies and gentlemen, genetically di-stinks.

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