|Specimen in Sri Lanka|
E. Geoffroy, 1803
The Indian pangolin, thick-tailed pangolin, or scaly anteater (Manis crassicaudata) is a pangolin found on the Indian subcontinent. It is not common anywhere in its range. Like other pangolins, it has large, overlapping scales on its body which act as armour. It can also curl itself into a ball as self-defence against predators such as the tiger. The colour of its scales varies depending on the colour of the earth in its surroundings.
It is an insectivore, feeding on ants and termites, digging them out of mounds and logs using its long claws, which are as long as its fore limbs. It is nocturnal and rests in deep burrows during the day.
The Indian pangolin is a solitary, shy, slow-moving, nocturnal mammal. It is about 84–122 centimetres (33–48 in) long from head to tail, the tail usually being 33–47 cm long, and weighs 10–16 kg. Females are generally smaller than the males and have one pair of mammae. The pangolin possesses a cone-shaped head with small, dark eyes, and a long muzzle with a nose pad similar in color, or darker than, its pinkish-brown skin. It has powerful limbs, tipped with sharp, clawed digits. It is an almost exclusive insectivore and principally subsists on ants and termites, which it catches with a specially adapted long, sticky tongue. The pangolin has no teeth, but has strong stomach muscles to aid in digestion. The most noticeable characteristic of the pangolin is its massive, scaled armour, which covers its upper face and its whole body with the exception of the belly and the inside of the legs. These protective scales are rigid and made of keratin. It has 160–200 scales in total, about 40–46% of which are located on the tail. Scales can be 6.5–7 cm long, 8.5 cm wide, and weigh 7–10 grams. The skin and scales make up about one-fourth to one-third of the total body mass of this species.
The Indian pangolin has been recorded from various forest types, including Sri Lankan rainforest and plains to middle hill levels. The animal can be found in grasslands and secondary forests, and is well adapted to desert regions as it is believed to have a tolerance to dry areas, but prefers more barren, hilly regions. This pangolin species may also sometimes reach high elevations, and has been sighted in Sri Lanka at 1100 meters and in the Nilgiri mountains in India at 2300 meters. It prefers soft and semi-sandy soil conditions suitable for digging burrows.
Pangolin burrows fall into one of two categories: feeding and living burrows. Feeding burrows are smaller than living burrows (though their sizes vary depending on the abundance of prey) and are created more frequently during the spring, when there is a greater availability of prey. Living burrows are wider, deeper, and more circular, and are occupied for a longer time than feeding burrows, as they are mainly used to sleep and rest during the day. After a few months, the pangolin abandons the burrow and digs a new one close to a food source. However, it is not uncommon for the pangolin to shift back to an old burrow.
Unlike its African counterpart, the Indian pangolin does not climb trees, but it does value the presence of trees, herbs, and shrubs in its habitat because it is easier to dig burrows around them. Features that promote an abundance of ants and termites (grasses, bare grounds, bases of trees, shrubs, roots, leaf litter, fallen logs and elephant feces) are often present in pangolin habitats.
The Indian pangolin is almost entirely insectivorous and more specifically a myrmecophage (ant/termite specialist). It feeds mainly on ants and termites, but also beetles and cockroaches. It feeds on the eggs, larvae, and adults of its prey, but eggs are the preferred choice. In the Potohar region of the Punjab province, the majority of its diet was found to consist of two types of ants, Camponotus confuci and Camponotus compressus. Other matter such as plant matter, stones, sand, and clay are consumed as well and in concert with strong stomach muscles aid in breaking down the food in the stomach. The Indian pangolin is nocturnal and uses its well-developed sense of smell to locate ant nests or termite mounds and other food sources. Foraging mostly takes place on the ground but may include arboreal ants, as seen in the rainforest canopy of Sri Lanka. Pangolins tear apart and dig into mounds by using the three centre claws on their forefeet, throwing loose soil backwards with their hind feet. When feeding, the rostral part of the pangolin's tongue is quickly inserted and withdrawn to capture prey. This movement is also used for drinking. Red weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) with their eggs are best accepted by the Indian pangolins in captivity.
Few details are known about the breeding behaviour of the Indian pangolin. During the animal's mating period, females and males may share the same burrow and show some diurnal activities. Males have testes in a fold of the skin located in their groin areas. The female's embryo develops in one of the uterine horns. The gestation period lasts 65–70 days; the placenta is diffuse and not deciduate. Usually, a single young is born, but twins have been reported in this species. The young weigh 235–400 g at birth and measure roughly 30 cm. The newborn animals have open eyes, and soft scales with protruding hairs between them. The mother pangolin carries her young on her tail. When the mother and young are disturbed, the young pangolin is held against its mother's belly and protected by the mother's tail.
Successful reproduction by Indian pangolins has been reported from several zoos, including Calcutta Zoo, Oklahoma Zoo, and Nandankanan Zoological Park. Pangolins were found to not show any significant morphological changes during pregnancy. Births in captivity have been reported throughout the year except for May and June. At birth a baby pangolin weighed 235 g and measured 30 cm in total length, including 12.5 cm of tail. A three-day-old Indian pangolin born at Oklahoma Zoo measured 310 mm from tip to tip with a 125 mm tail.
The Indian pangolin is solitary, mostly nocturnal, and terrestrial. In habitats such as Sri Lankan rainforests, they may be more arboreal, using their claws and prehensile tails as supports to readjust fore legs as they climb. These pangolins dig their own burrows in the ground, at depths of 1.5–6 m; these are frequently under large rocks and the entrance is often hidden with soil. When in danger, they roll up into balls, with their large tails pressed tightly against face and belly to help protect themselves. Longevity of this animal in captivity can exceed 19 years.
These pangolins are not often observed in the wild due to their solitary, secretive, and nocturnal nature. A loud emission of a hissing sound has been reported when they are frightened or angry. M. crassicaudata possesses anal glands which emit a strong and musky-smelling yellow fluid, possibly used for marking or defense.
Indian pangolins are nocturnal and mostly active intermittently between 17:00 and 05:00 hr. The peak period of activity was observed between 20:00–21:00 hr in captive individuals with some one individual variation.
Human impact and conservation status
Although the Indian pangolin is protected by national legislation in many protected areas throughout its range, it is heavily exploited for its flesh, scales, and skin. Illegal demand has increased over the past 20 years. Populations are declining due to hunting and poaching for both subsistence and international trade. As they only have a single offspring per year, this high demand is starting to seriously endanger populations. Various parts of the pangolin are valued as sources of food and medicine. The scales are used as an aphrodisiac, or made into rings or charms. The skins are used to manufacture leather goods, including boots and shoes. The majority of hunting is carried out by nomads and trained local hunters.
Pangolins are the most heavily trafficked CITES-protected mammal. The two other Asian species of pangolins (Manis javanica and Manis pentadactyla) are also declining due to the market in Chinese traditional medicine.
Within its range it is variously known as "khawlyaa manjar" (”खवल्या मांजर" in Marathi), saal khapri (Chhattisgarhi), bon-rou (Assamese: বন-ৰৌ), పొలుశు పంది or నీల చేప (Telugu), eenampechi ("ഈനാംപേച്ചി" in Malayalam), azhungu or alangu ('அலங்கு' in Tamil), bajrakapta ('ବଜ୍ରକାପ୍ତା' in Oriya), kaballewa (Sinhala), and chippu handi ("ಚಿಪ್ಪು ಹಂದಿ" in Kannada).
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