Tree Pangolin Fact File


Tree pangolins are most noticeable for the scales which cover their body. These scales are formed from keratin, the same substance which makes up human hair and fingernails. They cover all of the body except the face and belly. Scales grow out from the body and are worn down at the tip as they brush against trees.

Their scales will be colored dark brown, pale olive or yellowish-brown.

The tree pangolin has a long body which is pointed at the nose with a thin face. The underside and face have small hairs on them. At the end of their body is a long tail which is longer than the body. This tail is prehensile and helps them to climb in the trees as it can hold on. To assist with this the tail tip is bare.

Each foot has five toes each with a long curved claw which can be used to climb through the trees. These claws are tucked under and they will walk on the outer edge of their forefoot as they walk.

Their body length measures 30-88cm (12-34in) long and the tail adds 28-88cm (11-34in) to this length. Their weight will vary from 4.5-15kg (9.9-30.8lbs). Males will be slightly smaller than females.


Tree pangolins are carnivores with their diet made up of insects such as termites and ants. These are swallowed whole using their long tongue which is tucked up inside the snout. This long tongue fixes near the pelvis. Special muscles in the mouth help to keep the insects in place. The tongue may be one third their body length.

Sand and small stones will be swallowed with their food and these grind up the insects. Their stomach also contains keratin spines to help with digestion.

Water is drunk by flicking out their tongue.

When they eat the tree pangolin will close their eyes, ear and nostrils to stop ants going in them.

tree pangolin

Scientific Name

Phataginus tricuspis

Conservation Status



4.5-15kg (9.9-30.8lbs)


30-88cm (12-34in)


Wild Unknown

Captive 10 years



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Africa is the native home of the tree pangolin. Here they can be found throughout Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.


Tree pangolins make their home in forests and woodlands. They seem partially tolerant and can be found in palm oil plantations and farmland.


Breeding can take place year round and typically a female is either pregnant or raising young with little to no break.

To advertise that they are ready for mating they deposit feces and mark trees with urine throughout their range.

Gestation lasts for 5 months. At the conclusion of this a single infant is born. On a very rare occasion they may have twins. When they are born they have soft scales which take a few days to harden. Their eyes are open at birth.

During the first few weeks of life they cannot walk. Instead young cling to the mother’s tail. If the pair are threatened the mother forms a ball and places the baby in the middle of her.

By one month old they will start to try ants and termites. Weaning takes place at four months old and by five months old they will go off on their own.

It will take them two years to become sexually mature.

tree pangolin


When threatened the tree pangolin will roll in to a ball. This helps to protect the underside which is not covered with scales and thus vulnerable to predators.

Tree pangolins are diurnal and spend the day looking for food. They take shelter in tree hollows.

They can walk on their back legs by balancing using the tail.

Pangolins are able swimmers.

Predators and Threats

Tree pangolins face predation from lion, hyenas, African golden cats and pythons.

Their main defense against a predator is to curl in a ball and face their hard scales out. They will also hiss and puff. They can also secrete a foul smelling substance from an anal gland.

Humans are the main threat to tree pangolins. They are hunted in large numbers for the illegal wildlife trade. As many as 1 million were trafficked between 2000 and 2013.

They are hunted to gather their scales, organs and meat. These are used in traditional medicines for a range of illnesses. Some are also eaten as a delicacy.

Poaching used to focus on the Asian species but as they become increasingly rare the African species such as the tree pangolin are targeted more often.

The commercial trade in the pangolin was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016.

In addition to poaching tree pangolins are also threatened by habitat destruction and degredation.

Quick facts

The name pangolin comes from ‘penggulung’ which is a Malay word meaning roller. It references the way they roll up as a ball if threatened.

Tree pangolins are one of the eight species of pangolin.

Pangolins are the only known mammal to have scales.

Tree pangolins are known by a number of other names including the white-bellied pangolin, scaly anteater, three-cusped pangolin and the small-scaled tree pangolin.

Photo Credits


Николай Усик / / CC BY-SA (


EdgeOfMidnight / CC BY-SA (


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