Pangolins after the Flood

Spread and Diversification

Chad Arment (2023)

Manis javanica (Budak, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pangolins (Order Pholidota) are particularly unusual mammals, sometimes called scaly anteaters because they are covered in keratin scales and they feed on ants and termites (myrmecophagy). They curl into a scaly ball to protect themselves, and tree pangolins have a prehensile tail they use to hang from branches as they tear into tree bark. They are toothless (which contributes to their depauperate fossil record (Gebo and Rasmussen 1985)) and have an extraordinarily long tongue. It is generally accepted that there are eight living species (Gaudin, Emry, and Wible 2009; Gaubert et al. 2020), and three living genera (Manis, Smutsia, Phataginus). Interestingly, another species may be extant in Asia, as trafficked pangolins seized in Hong Kong genetically represented a distinct Manis lineage that didn’t correspond to known species (Hu et al. 2020), and there is biogeographic evidence for splitting the African Phataginus tricuspis (Gaubert et al. 2018).

Culturally, pangolins are highly poached and trafficked for the illegal Asian meat and pseudo-medicine trade (Gaubert et al. 2018). With the outbreak of COVID-19, pangolins hit the spotlight as a possible source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Zhang et al. 2020). There has been some pushback on this (Frutos et al. 2020), but pangolins continue to be denoted a reservoir (Gupta et al. 2022; Shi et al. 2022), due to carrying related and other viruses.

Poached, and confiscated, pangolin scales in Cameroon (Kenneth Cameron / USFWS)

Extant pangolin species (Heighton and Gaubert 2021, CC BY 4.0)

All living pangolins are in the Family Manidae, so considering them a single baraminic kind is a reasonable assumption. As it happens, several creationist studies, including statistical baraminology, suggest the Manidae is a holobaramin (Thompson and Wood 2018). Including the entire Order Pholidota as a single baraminic lineage would not significantly affect our understanding of modern pangolins, but the baraminological evidence points to the extinct fossil genera making up at least two baraminic lineages separate from the Manidae. One is likely the Family Patriomanidae (the North American Patriomanis and Asian Cryptomanis, along with the European, and secularly labeled insertae sedis, Necromanis). Additional work is needed for the Eocene fossils Eomanis, Eurotamandua, and Euromanis, which are secularly considered stem-pholidotans. Eomanis has been suggested to be the “oldest known definitive pholidotan,” having several pangolin synapomorphies, but also sharing what appear to be derived traits with the Paleocene-to-Oligocene clade Palaeanodonta (Rose 2012). That relationship requires further study.

For the three extant genera, molecular taxonomy demonstrates that Manis (now solely Asian) differentiated first, and that Smutsia and Phataginus (now both found in Africa) are sister genera (Gaubert et al. 2018; Gaubert et al. 2020). In regard to the fossil record, Manis is known from the Pleistocene of Africa and Asia, and the Pliocene of Africa and Europe (PBDB; Botha and Gaudin 2007; Terhune et al. 2021). Smutsia is known from the Pleistocene of Europe and Africa, and the Pliocene of Africa (Terhune et al. 2021). Phataginus is known from the Pleistocene and Pliocene of Africa (Klein et al. 2007; Matthews 2004). The secular model (using phylogenetic assessment of mitogenomes and nuclear genes) points to a divergence between Asian and African pangolins around the Oligocene-Miocene boundary and diversification into the three modern genera in the middle to upper Miocene (Gaubert et al. 2018). That would adapt well with a Biblical interpretation of the post-Flood world, assuming a single pangolin kind (Family Manidae) on the Ark. All three genera being found in the Pliocene is yet another strike against the Clarey Flood Model’s Upper Cenozoic Flood/post-Flood boundary.

Manis crassicaudata (Ajit Huilgol, CC BY 2.0)

Manis culionensis (Gregg Yan, CC BY-SA 4.0)


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