A Matter of Scales for Educators

A Matter of Scales exhibit poster
Research shows, and we agree, that the museum experience is more meaningful when students can connect what they see with classroom learning. If you would like to expand on this year's Mobile Museum content before or after your visit, please check out the collection of resources curated by our team of educators!

A Matter of Scales: Pangolins in Peril

Pangolins are amazing scale-covered mammals from Africa and Asia. Unfortunately they are critically endangered because of illegal hunting and trade. The pangolin data sculpture built by Professor Kevin Ripka tells tells the pangolin story using data visualization. Data visualization helps people understand large amounts of information by using imagery that makes data trends standout. In doing so, the exhibit works to raise awareness of this endangered group of animals in a fun and interactive way.

Pangolins aren’t the only animals in trouble. There are more than 25 endangered species right here in Iowa. Learn about some of the simple steps everyone can take to help.

Exhibit Main Points

  • Data visualization helps people understand the significance of large amounts of data in an engaging way.  
  • The Pangolin Data Sculpture was made to tell a story to the public. It hopes to raise awareness of this endangered group of animals in a fun interactive way. Data is being collected to assess the effectiveness of the project.
  • Pangolins are critically endangered mammals from Africa and Asia. They are unique in many ways.
  • Despite the fact that it has been proven that their scales and blood do not have any medicinal properties, tens of thousands of pangolins are killed every year. 
  • There are threatened and endangered animals in Iowa, too. Loss of habitat and habitat degradation are is the primary threat to Iowa wildlife. 
  • Everyone can help protect Iowa’s native species.

What is a Pangolin?

  • Pangolins are the only mammals in the world covered with scales. When they are curled up in a ball carnivores cannot bite through their armor. They were originally thought to be related to anteaters because they appear to be similar but DNA studies indicate that this is a case of convergent evolution. 
  • A pangolin’s sticky tongue is longer than its body. It can extend out of their mouths up to 16 inches. 
  • Pangolins can close their ears, nostrils, and eyes to keep biting insects out. (Ask children if they can squeeze their eyes shut. Now, can they squeeze their noses and ears shut? No hands allowed!)
  • Pangolins do not have teeth or chewing muscles. They crush their food inside specially adapted stomachs that are lined with keratinous spines and contain pebbles that they collect on their sticky tongues. Note: keratin is the protein that forms claws, hooves, and human hair and fingernails.
  • Despite the fact that studies have proven that their scales do not have any medicinal properties many people continue to use pangolin scales as medicine. Tens of thousands of pangolins are killed every year for their scales and meat. 
Word Bank
data visualization A method of communication that displays complicated information in an engaging, interactive way. Data visualization tries to help people understand the significance of large amounts of data using imagery that makes patterns and correlations standout.
endangered species Any species of fish, plant life, or wildlife which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range. They are protected by law.
keratinous spines Keratin is a fibrous protein that forming the main hair, feathers, hoofs, claws, horns, and human fingernails.
pangolins Name comes from the Malay word pengguling meaning “one who rolls up”. There are 8 species in Asia and Africa. They were once classified with anteaters and armadillos but the similarities are now considered to be the result of convergent evolution – they are no longer considered close relatives. They live in hollow trees or burrows depending on the species. They tend to be solitary – only meeting to mate. Most are nocturnal – they have poor vision and rely on an excellent sense of smell and hearing.
species of special concern Any species about which problems of status or distribution are suspected, but not documented. Not protected by the Iowa Threatened and Endangered Species law, but many animal species listed as Special Concern are protected under other state and federal laws addressing hunting, fishing, collecting, and harvesting.
threatened species Any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Protected by law.

Learn More about Pangolins!

These sites have reliable information, photos, and videos that will familiarize students with the charming pangolins.

Learn More about Endangered Species in Iowa

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