Ground Pangolin

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.
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A pangolin curls up in a ball when threatened
Courtesy of David Bygott, Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY-NC-SA

About Pangolins (Order Pholidota): Feeding

Pangolins are specialized to eat ants and termites. Waddling along on short legs, they use their keen sense of smell to locate insect nests. Digging into them with sharp claws, they create entry holes into which they can insert their tongues. A pangolin tongue is anchored way back inside its body near the hind limbs and is longer than the pangolin's body. As a pangolin rapidly flicks its tongue in and out gathering up insects, it consumes sand and small stones, too. A pangolin has no teeth, and its tongue carries the insects straight to its stomach. Its large muscles churn the insect bodies, grinding them against the sand and stones and breaking them down. Protruding stomach spines made of fingernail material (keratin) cause additional breakdown as food bangs against them. Even a pangolin's eyes are specialized for its diet; they are protected from insect bites by thick eyelids.

The fur on this cottontop tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) does more than just insulate
Courtesy of Ltshears, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Body Covering

All mammals have hair, outgrowths of the skin, during at least some part of their development. While it evolved to insulate animals in cold climates, mammal hair has various functions. Long, stiff hairs (vibrissae, or whiskers) are found in all mammals but humans. Whether on the face, legs, or tail, vibrissae extend an animal's sense of touch. Some mammals, such as porcupines, have enlarged hairs that function as defensive spines. Defense is also achieved by raising individual hairs to make an animal look larger (such as an angry cat). Muscles in the skin make the hair stand up or lie down. Raising and lowering hair changes how much air is trapped under it, which also makes it more or less insulating. Mammals in cold climates tend to have an extra layer of insulating fur, or extra fat under their fur. Mammals in climates that change seasonally shed and replace their hair to create a thicker winter coat and a thinner summer coat.