Jan 23 2017
Last month I randomly opened an encyclopedia for the letter P and found an animal I’d never seen before. Though he looks like an anteater he’s not related to them.
Pangolins are mammals with long thin snouts and long tails that eat ants and termites. Instead of having fur they’re the only mammal on earth with scales. The scales, made of keratin like our fingernails, provide protection. When a pangolin is attacked it rolls into a ball in the same defensive posture as a porcupine.
Eight pangolin species range from Africa to Asia and Indonesia. All are in severe decline, listed as vulnerable to critically endangered, because their meat is a Chinese delicacy and folk medicine. Even African pangolins are poached for this illegal trade.
Anteaters can’t help them. They’re not related.
Anteaters are furry mammals with long thin snouts and long tails, native to Central and South America.
They, too, eat ants and termites.
Anteaters and pangolins resemble each other because they need the same tools to gather food. Similar appearance in unrelated species, called convergent evolution, is true of my favorite bird, too.
Peregrine falcons resemble hawks because they both hunt for meat, but peregrines are more closely related to parrots than to hawks and eagles. They converged in appearance to get the job done.
(photos and maps from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)