Digesta retention time and recovery rates of ants and termites in Chinese pangolins (Manis pentadactyla)

Nick Ching Min Sun, Flora Hsuan Yi Lo, Bo Ye Chen, Hsuan Ya Yu, Chun Chieh Liang, Chung Chi Lin, Shih Chien Chin, Hou Feng Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pangolins are myrmecophagous mammals whose biology and ecology remain poorly studied. Termite mandibles and ant head capsules are the two primary remains found in pangolin feces. Determining the retention time of insect cuticles is important for understanding the digestive physiology of pangolins, while determining the recovery rate of termites and ants in feces is required to estimate the number of these prey items that are consumed by pangolins. In this study, the authors conducted feeding trials with captive Chinese pangolins (Manis pentadactyla). Sixty grams of the fungus-growing termite Odontotermes formosanus (18,816 individuals) and 15–20 g of the yellow crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes (14,400–19,200 individuals) were fed to each pangolin. After feeding, pangolin feces were collected daily for 1 week. The authors also assessed the accuracy of using chromium (III) oxide powder (Cr2O3) as a proxy for determining gut passage time, as has been done in previous studies. The results showed that remaining termite mandibles and ant head capsules in feces peaked at 66 and 90 hr after feeding and their recovery rates were 0.35 ± 0.10 and 0.65 ± 0.04, respectively. In both feeding trials, the retention time of Cr2O3 was much shorter than that of the termite mandibles and ant head capsules, indicating that Cr2O3 is not an appropriate indicator for estimating food retention time of myrmecophagous animals. Our results revealed that the ant head capsules were preserved better in feces compared with the termite mandibles, suggesting that termites may be considerably underestimated in the feces of wild pangolins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-175
Number of pages8
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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