Long-tailed Pangolin, Manis tetradactyla

Long-tailed Pangolin, Manis tetradactyla

© University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge 2013

© University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge 2013

Prof John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College writes:

While, as a scientist, I am fascinated by so many of the UMZC specimens, and probably should give a shout out to ones I am an expert in studying like elephants, birds or various fossils, what I enjoy most about visiting a museum exhibit is to see the animals I am less familiar with as a researcher. This sometimes stimulates new research directions as I see a strange animal and ask myself, “That’s odd… what’s up with that?” And then I dive into the scientific literature to learn more. The pangolin “armour” and skeleton has done that for me – each time I visit the museum I tend to look back at it in wonder. Its anatomy is so strange: hairs fused to form scales, a tubular snout and reduced jaw, relatively huge and robust limbs, and broad clawed hands with strange “fissured” claws (see how the bony claw cores are split – this is characteristic of pangolins and seems to have something to do with digging, but is barely studied). Moreover, pangolins often walk on two legs, almost like a dinosaur, but we know nothing about how or why they do this. This animal’s anatomy and natural history just screams out for someone to study it and learn how it works and how it evolved. But science knows quite little about pangolins, surprisingly, and sadly they are being harvested for Asian alternative medicine and meat and in severe decline. I hope that we get to know pangolins, and by knowing them become better able to protect and respect them, before they disappear and are only seen in museums.

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