The pangolin’s scales consist of hair-like filaments. The scales of the newborn harden on the second day, after which it can roll into a ball in order to protect itself. When it is very young, the mother will roll into a ball around it: as it grows too large to be completely enclosed, its head and shoulders are enveloped, and its tail is firmly clasped across the female’s body.
The pangolin is a nocturnal, solitary forager, with a diet consisting of ants: it feeds in a similar way to the aardvark, using its claws to dig into anthills, and its long, sticky tongue to extract the ants. Its tongue is extremely long (40 cm), and when not feeding the pangolin packs its tongue away into a pouch in its throat. The pangolin will either shelter in the abandoned burrow of a spring hare, aardvark or other animal; or it may bury itself in a heap of debris. It is a slow mover, walking on its hindlegs with the forefeet and tail held clear of the ground, and stopping to balance on its tail in an almost vertical position, in order to sniff the wind to locate possible danger.
The Pangolin, also known as the Scaly Anteater, is protected by its armourlike scales, as well as by a repugnant odour that it discharges when predators are near. The head is small, and the muzzle is pointed and covered with small scales which continue forward of the eyes.
When the animal is in extreme danger, it rolls into a ball with its head tucked underneath its tail: hence its name (Peng-goling is a Malay word, meaning ‘roller’). It can then move its broad, scaled tail back and forth, to injure its attacker and prevent the predator from prising it out of its tightly rolled shape.