The brain of the tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis). I. General appearance of the central nervous system

Document Type



Brain and Mind Institute


Here, we describe the superficial appearance of the brain of the rarely studied tree pangolin. Phylogenetic analyses have placed the pangolins, order Pholidota, as a sister group to the order Carnivora. The majority of features visible on the surface of the tree pangolin brain, and its overall appearance can be described as typically mammalian. The pattern of sulci and gyri, while simple, appears very similar to that observed in carnivores. Two derived features of the Pholidota were observed, the first being the rostral decussation of the pyramidal tract, which instead of occurring at the spinomedullary junction, decussates at the level of the caudal pole of the facial nerve nucleus in the rostral medulla oblongata. This appears to be related to the need for voluntary control of the tongue, with a potentially enlarged corticobulbar tract ending in the hypoglossal nucleus. The second derived feature is the very short spinal cord, which terminates midway along the thoracic vertebrae before giving rise to a long and extensive cauda equina. This foreshortened spinal cord appears to be related to anisotropic growth of the somatic and neural elements following early development of the central nervous system. The olfactory system appears to be generally enlarged and is likely the predominant sense used in foraging. Vision and hearing do not appear specialized based on the relative size of the superior and inferior colliculi, but potential somatic specializations indicate that the somatosensory system is heavily relied upon for food consumption and prehensile tail usage.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


Journal of Comparative Neurology