Is Pangolin a Vertebrate or Invertebrate

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The pangolin is a vertebrate.

Vertebrates are animals with a backbone, while invertebrates are animals without a backbone.

Pangolins have the most vertebrae in their tail of any vertebrate, with 46-47, which is amazing considering humans only have 33 vertebrae in our whole body.

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Pangolin Anatomy

Pangolins are unique mammals with several key characteristics that classify them as vertebrates.

Here are some of their anatomical features:

  • Skeletal structure: Pangolins have a well-developed internal skeleton, which is a defining characteristic of vertebrates.

    Their skeleton provides support, protection, and enables movement.

    With 46-47 vertebrae, the long-tailed species of pangolin boasts the highest number of vertebrae among mammals.
  • Presence of a backbone: As vertebrates, pangolins have a backbone or vertebral column, which is a series of individual bones called vertebrae.

    The backbone provides structural support and protects the spinal cord, which is a crucial part of the central nervous system.
  • Muscular and sticky tongues: Pangolins have long, muscular, and sticky tongues that are perfect for reaching and lapping up ants and termites in deep cavities.

    Their tongues are attached near their pelvis and last pair of ribs and when fully extended can be up to half the length of the animal’s head and body.
  • Stomach structure: A pangolin’s stomach is muscular and has keratinous spines projecting into its interior.

    Usually containing small stones, the stomach mashes and grinds prey in much the same manner as a bird’s gizzard.
  • Limbs and claws: Pangolin limbs are stout and well-adapted for digging.

    Each paw has five toes, and their forefeet have three long, curved claws used to demolish the nests of termites and ants and to dig nesting and sleeping burrows.

    Pangolins shuffle on all four limbs, balancing on the outer edges of their forefeet and tucking their foreclaws underneath as they walk.
  • Scales: Pangolins are covered with scales, which is a rare trait in mammals.

    These scales are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails.

    The scales provide protection against predators and other threats.
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Classification of Pangolins

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are mammals that belong to the order Pholidota.

They are the only family within this order, with all eight extant species belonging to the genus Manis

Here is a breakdown of their taxonomical classification within the animal kingdom:

  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Pholidota
  • Family: Manidae
  • Genus: Manis
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Pangolins share certain characteristics with other mammals, such as a body covered with keratinous hair (the scales of the pangolin are actually fused hairs), mammary glands that produce milk for young, endothermy, and highly developed parental care

They are also classified under the infraclass Eutheria, meaning they are placentals with a long gestation period, giving birth to highly developed young.

Within the order Pholidota, pangolins are characterized by their scales covering their bodies, lack of teeth, and very long tongues

They have a gizzard-like stomach, a long tail, thick eyelids, and stout, strong, clawed limbs used for digging into ant and termite mounds. Pangolins feed only on burrowing social insects, such as ants and termites

They have relatively poor vision and hearing, and they probably locate their prey by scent.Pangolins are not closely related to armadillos and anteaters, despite their similar feeding habits and long tongues

Their resemblance to these other species is considered to result from convergent evolution. Instead, pangolins are more closely related to the order Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, and bears.

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Pangolin Evolution

Pangolins have a long evolutionary history, and their vertebrate traits have evolved over time.

Here is what we know about their evolution and closest relatives:

  • Pangolins are believed to have diverged from their closest relatives, the Carnivora, around 56.8-67.1 million years ago. This means that pangolins and carnivores share a common ancestor that lived around this time.
  • Pangolins are the only family within the order Pholidota, and all eight extant species belong to the genus Manis. They are characterized by their scales covering their bodies, lack of teeth, and very long tongues.
  • Pangolins are not closely related to armadillos and anteaters, despite their similar feeding habits and long tongues. Instead, they are more closely related to the order Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, and bears.
  • Pangolins share certain characteristics with other mammals, such as a body covered with keratinous hair (the scales of the pangolin are actually fused hairs), mammary glands that produce milk for young, endothermy, and highly developed parental care.
  • Pangolins have evolved several adaptations that help them survive in their environment.

    For example, their scales provide protection against predators and other threats, and their long, sticky tongues are perfect for reaching and lapping up ants and termites in deep cavities.

In summary, pangolins are unique mammals that have evolved several adaptations to survive in their environment.

They are the only family within the order Pholidota, and their closest relatives are the Carnivora.

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Pangolin Habitats and Behavior

Pangolins are unique mammals with various adaptations that help them survive in different environments.

Here are some of their natural habitats and behaviors:

  • Habitats: Pangolins live in a variety of habitats, including tropical forests, arid deserts, thick brush, cleared and cultivated areas, and savannah grasslands. They are found in regions across both Asia and Africa, with different species occupying specific areas. Their distribution is often determined by the availability of large numbers of food sources, such as ants and termites.
  • Feeding: Pangolins have a specialized diet consisting mainly of ants and termites, which they locate using their well-developed sense of smell. They also consume various other invertebrates, such as bee larvae, flies, worms, and crickets. Their insatiable appetite for insects makes them important for pest control in their ecosystems, with estimates suggesting that one adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually.
  • Behavior: Pangolins are solitary and primarily active at night. They are slow-moving animals but can reach speeds of up to 5 miles per hour in times of distress. Pangolins are capable of climbing trees, digging into burrows, and even rolling into a ball and rolling down hills as a means of escape from predators. They are also known for their ability to swim.
  • Adaptations: Pangolins have various adaptations that contribute to their survival and adaptation to different environments.

    Some of these adaptations include:
    • Curling into a ball: When threatened or attacked, pangolins can curl into a ball, with only their scales exposed, making them a tough prey item. The muscles in their abdomen are strong, helping them stay curled up even when predators try to pry them open.
    • Specialized walking: Because of the long claws on their front limbs, which make it difficult for them to walk on all four legs, pangolins have adapted a special way of walking.

      They usually walk only on their rear legs, holding their front legs slightly above the ground and dragging their tail behind them to help with stability and balance.
    • Good sense of smell and hearing: Pangolins have a very good sense of smell and decent hearing, which they use to detect environmental stimuli.

      This compensates for their relatively poor eyesight, leading to the development of small eyes with tough eyelids that protect them from the bites of insects they consume.
    • Scales: Pangolins are covered in scales, which is a rare trait among mammals.

      These scales provide them with protection against predators and help them blend into their surroundings.

Pangolin Conservation

Pangolins are facing numerous threats to their survival, primarily due to habitat destruction and illegal trade.

Recognizing them as vertebrates is crucial to their conservation efforts because it highlights their importance as a unique and valuable part of the animal kingdom.

Here are some of the threats faced by pangolins and how their vertebrate characteristics play a role in their survival and adaptation to different environments:

Threats to pangolins:

  • Habitat destruction: Pangolins are losing their natural habitats due to deforestation, land-use changes, and other human activities. This loss of habitat puts added pressure on the dwindling numbers of remaining pangolins.
  • Illegal trade: Pangolins are hunted for food and illegally traded for their scales, skins, and meat. Their scales are used in traditional Asian medicine, their meat is considered a luxury food in many parts of Asia, and their skins and other parts are used for various purposes such as fashion. As a result, there is a rampant illegal global trade in pangolins and their parts.

    The demand comes principally from China and Vietnam.
  • Low public and governmental awareness: Inadequate public and governmental awareness of pangolins and the trade add to the conservation challenge, as well as insufficient political will to enact enforcement of protections. Communities and local officials need to be fully aware of the benefits of pangolin conservation so that they can become involved in conservation action.
  • Insufficient conservation programs: There is a lack of resources and capacity to implement conservation programs, and low prioritization by governments and local communities to take action. More funding and resources are needed to immediately halt this illegal trade, and broadening conservation efforts is critical to the survival of this remarkable group of animals.

How their vertebrate characteristics play a role in their survival and adaptation to different environments:

  • Skeletal structure: Pangolins have a well-developed internal skeleton, which provides support, protection, and enables movement.

    With 46-47 vertebrae, the long-tailed species of pangolin boasts the highest number of vertebrae among mammals. This allows them to curl into a ball when threatened, with only their scales exposed, making them a tough prey item.
  • Presence of a backbone: As vertebrates, pangolins have a backbone or vertebral column, which provides structural support and protects the spinal cord, a crucial part of the central nervous system.
  • Muscular and sticky tongues: Pangolins have long, muscular, and sticky tongues that are perfect for reaching and lapping up ants and termites in deep cavities.

    Their tongues are attached near their pelvis and last pair of ribs and when fully extended can be up to half the length of the animal’s head and body.
  • Limbs and claws: Pangolin limbs are stout and well-adapted for digging.

    Each paw has five toes, and their forefeet have three long, curved claws used to demolish the nests of termites and ants and to dig nesting and sleeping burrows.
  • Scales: Pangolins are covered with scales, which provide protection against predators and other threats. These scales are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails.

    When threatened, pangolins can curl into a ball, with only their scales exposed, making them a tough prey item.
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In conclusion, recognizing pangolins as vertebrates is crucial to their conservation efforts.

They are facing numerous threats to their survival, primarily due to habitat destruction and illegal trade.

Their vertebrate characteristics, such as their skeletal structure, presence of a backbone, muscular and sticky tongues, limbs and claws, and scales, play a role in their survival and adaptation to different environments.

More funding and resources are needed to immediately halt this illegal trade, and broadening conservation efforts is critical to the survival of this remarkable group of animals.

Pangolin Species Diversity

Pangolins are a group of mammals that are covered in hard scales and are found in Asia and Africa.

There are eight species of pangolins, all of which belong to the genus Manis.

Here are some of the unique adaptations and characteristics of different pangolin species:

  • Indian pangolin: This species is found in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia.

    They have a thick tail and are known for their ability to dig through concrete and into houses using their impressive claws.
  • Sunda pangolin: This species is found in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

    They are also known as the Malayan pangolin and have a prehensile tail that can be used to grasp branches.
  • Philippine pangolin: This species is found in the Philippines and is the only pangolin species found in the country.

    They are known for their small size and are the smallest of all pangolin species.
  • White-bellied pangolin: This species is found in West and Central Africa and is also known as the tree pangolin.

    They are arboreal and are known for their ability to climb trees using their claws and semi-prehensile tails.
  • Black-bellied pangolin: This species is found in Central and West Africa and is also known as the long-tailed pangolin.

    They have a long tail and are known for their ability to curl into a ball when threatened.
  • Giant pangolin: This species is found in Central and West Africa and is also known as the giant ground pangolin.

    They are the largest of all pangolin species and can grow up to 1.8 meters in length.
  • Ground pangolin: This species is found in Africa and is also known as the Temminck’s ground pangolin.

    They are terrestrial and are known for their ability to dig burrows with their strong front legs and claws.
  • Palawan pangolin: This species is found in the Philippines and is also known as the Philippine pangolin.

    They are critically endangered and are the most threatened of all pangolin species.

All pangolin species share the same vertebrate characteristics, such as their skeletal structure, presence of a backbone, muscular and sticky tongues, limbs and claws, and scales.

However, there may be variations among them in terms of the number of vertebrae, the length of their tails, and other physical characteristics.

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Pangolins and Human Culture

Pangolins have played a significant role in various societies and cultures throughout history.

Their unique characteristics and adaptations have led to their inclusion in traditional beliefs, folklore, and medicinal practices.

Here are some examples of the cultural significance of pangolins and how the understanding of their vertebrate nature influences traditional beliefs, folklore, and conservation efforts:

  • Traditional medicine: In many cultures, pangolin scales and other body parts are used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, such as asthma, arthritis, and cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims, and the use of pangolin parts in traditional medicine is a major driver of the illegal trade in pangolins.
  • Folklore and mythology: Pangolins have been featured in various folktales and myths throughout history.

    In some African cultures, pangolins are believed to have supernatural powers and are associated with rainmaking and fertility. In Chinese mythology, pangolins are associated with the god of longevity and are believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits.
  • Conservation efforts: Recognizing pangolins as vertebrates is crucial to their conservation efforts because it highlights their importance as a unique and valuable part of the animal kingdom.

    Public awareness campaigns, such as PSAs featuring Jackie Chan, have helped raise awareness about the plight of pangolins and the need for conservation efforts. Conservationists and scientists are working to map the current distribution and range of pangolins, estimate population sizes, and research their behavior and ecology so that we can identify ways to ensure their survival. Community-based conservation efforts, such as those in Nepal, are also helping to protect wild pangolin populations.

In conclusion, pangolins have played a significant role in various societies and cultures throughout history.

Their unique characteristics and adaptations have led to their inclusion in traditional beliefs, folklore, and medicinal practices.

Recognizing pangolins as vertebrates is crucial to their conservation efforts because it highlights their importance as a unique and valuable part of the animal kingdom.

Public awareness campaigns, conservation efforts, and community-based initiatives are all important steps in protecting pangolins and ensuring their survival.