Evolution and systematics

In Europe, the geological range of the order Pholidota is middle Eocene (about 45 million years ago [mya]) to Pleistocene (5-1.6 mya); in Asia, its range is Miocene (24-5 mya) to Present; in North America, it is early Oligocene (about 35 mya); and in Africa, middle Oligocene (about 30 mya) to Present. The order name Pholidota means "the scaled animal."

The origins of pangolins are largely unknown. Many of their current features (such as lack of adult teeth along with signs of primordial teeth in the embryo, chewing musculature and stomach, lack of zygomatic arch, elongated facial skeleton, worm-like tongue, forelimbs as digging tools, and prehensile tail) imply a long independent history. There is a general acceptance that they had an early separation from primitive mammals. By the Eocene era pangolins were highly specialized with such adaptations as horny scales, no teeth, and a diet of only ants and termites. The common name pangolin (possibly from Malayan or French words) refers to the animal's ability to curl up into a ball.

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