Pangolins are usually solitary and nocturnal. They are generally timid and wary in character.


They live in underground burrows that they dig out themselves or modify those created by other animals. Depth depends on the soil; in loose soil burrows may be over 600cm deep. The burrow terminates in a large chamber. The entrance is blocked with soil or other material when the pangolin is in residence (Lekagul, 1988).


Pangolins generally move slowly on all fours with a shuffling gait. The fore-claws are folded inwards so that the pangolin walks on its knuckles.

The tail is carried elevated slightly off the ground (Nowak, 1999).They are able to stand upright with the aid of their tail as a balance. Pangolins can move up to 3mph when moving bipedally (Macdonald, 1984).

Pangolins use a ‘caterpillar motion’ to climb trees using their feet and claws. Laterally projecting scales at the side of the tail assist with gripping the trunk when climbing. They may be found feeding or resting in trees (Lekagul, 1988).

They can also hang by their tail-tip but tire quickly (Banks, 1949). View an image of a pangolin hanging by its tail.

Defence tactics

When disturbed they roll into a ball so the armoured tail and limbs protect the soft underparts. They are said to coil up so tightly that they cannot be unrolled. The scales are erected and shuddering movements of the scales and tail act as a further deterrent to predators (Nowak, 1999).

They are also known to secrete acrid liquid from the anal region when threatened (Jentink, 1908).

'Ant bathing'

Pangolins have been seen taking ‘ant baths’. They roll in a nest, trapping ants under their scales and then submerge themselves in water to remove the ants. It is suspected this behaviour is used to clean their skin and scales (Nowak, 1999).

  • Migration

    While pangolins are not known to migrate, they do have several methods for marking their territory. Discover more about the territory marking methods and territory sizes of Manis javanica.