Tree pangolin

Manis tricuspis

SUBFAMILY

Smutsiinae

TAXONOMY

Manis tricuspis Rafinesque, 1821, West Africa. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: African tree pangolin, small-scaled pangolin, three-pointed pangolin, white-bellied pangolin.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Tree pangolins have a head and body length of 13.75-17.75 in (35-45 cm), tail length of 19.3-23.5 in (49-60 cm) 16-20 in (40-50 cm), and weight of 3.9-5.3 lb (1.8-2.4 kg). Pangolin scales are comparatively small, with a brown-gray to dark brown color. Their distinctive dorsal scales have three fairly pronounced points (hence the name "tricuspis") on the free edge. The scales are often worn down in older individuals. They have white skin and hair; do not have external ears, have scales on the tail (but do not have scales beneath the tail), and have a very long rear part of the breastbone. Their limbs are slender with comparatively long claws, an important aid in climbing, as is their very long prehensile tail. They sleep during the day on branches of trees or in holes, which they dig out of the ground. They emerge at night to feed. The sternum consists of two extraordinarily long cartilaginous rods extending outside the diaphragm, first toward the rear and then arcing toward the head again. The long sternum is an adaptation to accommodate the animal's extremely elongated tongue. The intestine of the tree pangolin is about 6 ft (2 m) long. They drop their feces anywhere. Body temperature fluctuates between 86-95°F (30-35°C), primarily due to the outdoor temperature.

DISTRIBUTION

From Senegal to western Kenya, and south to Angola and Zambia.

HABITAT

They prefer tropical rainforests, sometimes living along the forest edges and the savannas in the southern parts of Congo (formerly Zaire) and in Zambia. The territory of males covers 37.5-62.5 acres (15-25 hectares), while the territory of females covers 7.5-10.0 acres (3-4 hectares); both generally in the lower strata of the forest.

BEHAVIOR

Tree pangolins are nocturnal and truly arboreal. With the aid of a very prehensile tail they climb with the front legs gripping the tree and with the body curved; the hind feet are then loosened up and are anchored close behind the front feet; and with the hind feet and the tail giving the body support, the front feet grip the bark further up. They are also able to hang by the tip of their tail. When hanging by its tail and wanting to resume climbing, they will climb up the tail, placing its gripping claws between the side scales of its tail. They climb down head first, in the same way as going up. Rest periods are spent in hollow trees, epiphytes, or excavated termite hills. Sleeping places are usually located 30-40 ft (10-15 m) above the ground, and they sleep rolled up in the shape of a ball. They spend most of their active time searching for termites on the ground.

Females are active for 3-4 hours every night and usually travel an average of 1,300 ft (400 m) in one night. They follow zigzag or circular courses, usually returning to their previous shelter. As a result, females usually only utilize a portion of their territory. Because of this pattern (and because of markings left by secretions of the posterior glands), different females rarely meet. If a female should locate fresh markings of another female, she will return to her own territory. Males are active for 2-10 hours every night and travel an average of 2,200 ft (700 m) in one night. Males use much more of their territory each night, with their paths being longer and straighter. This pattern allows males to encounter females more frequently. As a result male territory overlaps several female territories. During the rainy season they may become inactive for several days.

Tree pangolins move rapidly over the ground, sometimes as fast as 180 ft (60 m) per minute. They often stop, rise with the support of the tail, sniff the air, and search for enemies. When sensing an enemy they often climb trees until the danger has passed.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

They feed on ground and tree ants and termites, preferring tree ants of the genus Nasutitermes and Microcerotermes, and ignoring ground ants such as Crematogaster. The quantity of insects consumed daily is 5-7 oz (150-200 g) with 3-4 hours of daily foraging for females and up to 10 hours for males. Their stomach can hold up to 0.5 gal (2 l) of insects. They use their powerful forelimbs to sweep up insects with swift movements of their long tongues. They drink water often.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

When a female is ready to mate, both female and male will intertwine during mating, and the pair will lie ventrally opposed.

The gestation period is about 140-150 days. Females give birth to one young at a time. Birth weight is 3.2-5.4 oz (90-150 g). The weaning period takes about five months. Sexual maturity and life span are unknown. The young will crawl up on the mother immediately after birth in order to find her pectoral nipples. They are able to hold on by the claws of the forefeet, either to the mother or to a limb. At this time, they are unable to walk, but will use their tail to cling to the mother.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

They are important to local indigenous people for its meat. The scales are thought to have medicinal value in the form of antiseptic to counter fever and skin disease by Chinese cultures. Their hide is used for making shoes and other leather goods.

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