While our friend Ratty is an omnivore with places to go and habitats to conquer, the scaly pangolin is far more specialised in its culinary preferences. Similar to the other little oddball nature’s created, the aardvark, pangolins live almost exclusively on termites and ants.
Pangolins are nocturnal, armour plated mammals that live in Africa and Asia. They protect their cuddly bodies with overlapping scales that have sharp edges and form a type of armour an ancient Roman centurion would have loved to possess.
Like our friend the hedgehog, pangolins roll up into a ball when threatened by an inquisitive predator’s paw. They hunt for termites and ants at night, which they lap up with a long tongue that’s covered in sticky saliva (just like the aardvark). Pangolins have sharp claws which allow them to dig their underground burrows, where they spend the hot, humid days and hide from predators. There are long-tailed, earth-dwelling and short-tailed, tree-dwelling pangolins living in both continents.
The Asian variety has external ears and fluffy hair at the base of their scales, but the African variety has internal ears and lack scaly covering on the underside of their tails. Pangolins haven’t got teeth, but grind up their food thanks to swallowing small pebbles. Their powerful stomach muscles do the rest to assist digestion.
Zeldzaam exemplaar Pangolin (schubdier) in Artis (Photo credit: Nationaal Archief)
The poor pangolins have, of course, one predator, who has hunted them relentlessly for their scales and tasty flesh: yep, our favourite villain, the human omnivore. While in Africa the pangolin is regarded as a yummy addition to a feast, in Asia the pangolin’s scales are used in “medicine”, following along the same rot as they come up with when grinding up elephant tusks or rhino horns to make an “aphrodisiac” elixir. It’s just a way of making lots of money out of idiots (mainly male), but sadly it hasn’t stopped “medicine men and women” from spreading this superstitious nonsense for centuries.
Just like omnivores in nature can survive and conquer new habitats without any trouble, while a highly specialised creature loses out every time, the writer who closes his or her mind to other genres and other writer’s output will neither learn nor is likely to succeed in their own writer’s habitat.
One thing all successful writers have in common is that they are ferocious omnivores when it comes to reading. They don’t disregard the humblest of genres, but cherry-pick the best ideas, writing styles and “voices” for their own work – that’s not stealing other people’s work, you understand, it’s being influenced by other writers’ good practice and learning from both their good and bad writing.
We dismiss and disregard genres that don’t correspond to our own at our peril. I cannot even begin to describe how much goodness I have soaked up over the last 46 years of reading. I’ve seen how dialogue can be used to give character to my protagonists and antagonists; I’ve discovered that too much descriptive prose makes readers want to skip the page; I’ve learned how NOT to do things and how to critically assess other writers’ work in a constructive way that hopefully benefits both them and me.
A coat of armor made of pangolin scales, an unusual object presented to George III in 1820. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Being a reading omnivore as a writer keeps us on our toes, inspires us to look at our own writing with fresh eyes. The highly specialised writer, who never ventures out of their own comfortable underground burrow, will soon become stale, jaded and fade away from their readers’ minds, stifling any buying impulse in their book reading public.
In that light my next post – prompted by an enquiry from a regular reader – will have at least one recipe from Mrs. Vampire’s Cook Book for the toothy Housewife (Fang press, published in 1586).
Willow take note, you’ll be tested on it later!