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Pangolins and chitin

Pangolins received a lot of attention in the current corona crisis. But what kind of animals are these pangolins, which look like a pine cone when rolled up? And why do they need chitin in their special diet? Answers to those questions and more facts in this article.

Two groups of coronaviruses related to the virus SARS-CoV-2 of the human pandemic have been identified in pangolins. Even though the theory that the new coronavirus has been transmitted directly from pangolins to humans is considered improbable, pangolins have become better known recently. The meat of the animals is considered a delicacy in countries like China and Vietnam. Further, the pangolin scales, made of keratin, are used in traditional Chinese medicine. The worldwide trade of these endangered animals is prohibited, but there is still an international illegal trade with pangolins.

The name pangolin comes from the Malaysian term "pengguling" (one who rolls up). As pangolins curl into a tight ball when in danger, their overlapping sharp-edged scales act as an amour against predators like lions and leopards. Only towards humans this trick does not work. Poachers simply collect the curled-up animals. Many nature conservation organizations and celebrities, such as the actor Jackie Chan, campaign for the protection of pangolins.

Ants and termites are on the diet of pangolins, which they pick up with their long and sticky tongue. As the animals lack teeth, the ants and termites end up unchewed in the stomach, which is protected by keratinous spines. Strong muscles, stones and sand grind the insects. The high proportion of chitin in the food is processed with the help of specialized enzymes (chitinases) to digest the chitin exoskeleton of the insects.

The only pangolins in Europe live at the Zoo in Leipzig (Germany). HMC supports the Leipzig Zoo and the pangolins long-term and supplies chitin for the optimal nutrition of the endangered animals.


More information about the endangered animals can be found at WWF:

German newspaper article about pangolins:

chitin, pangolin

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