This small, arboreal species is fairly widespread and is also the species most frequently encountered, but they are by no means common. The body is covered in numerous small scales, with each scale having three projecting points when new (hence the species name 'tricuspis'). The scales are grey to light brown, and the belly and bare skin is white. Adults are small, averaging 60-105 cm in length, with the tail contributing about half of this length. They have a maximum mass of only 3 kg, although averaging 1–2 kg.
White-bellied pangolins frequently come to ground while foraging or when crossing open patches, but quickly ascend the nearest tree when disturbed. This species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with a population that is rapidly declining due to its prevalence in domestic and international trade.
This species is most often found in moist tropical lowland forests, but also frequently inhabit secondary forests, forest-savanna mosaics, dense woodlands and sometimes abandoned oil palm stands. They are semi-arboreal and predominantly nocturnal. Male home ranges may be as large as 30 hectares (0.3 km2), while female home ranges average 3-4 hectares (0.03-0.04 km2).
Very little is known about the reproductive biology of this species. Females give birth to a single pup after a gestation period of about 150 days. The pup is carried on the base of the mother's tail until it is old enough to fend for itself. Some authors believe that reproduction is continuous, although it is more likely that females give birth to single young each year.
This species is believed to eat exclusively ants and termites, with ants probably constituting the bulk of the diet. No information is available with regards to the specific species eaten. Some authors are of the opinion that terrestrial termites form the bulk of the diet with arboreal termites forming a secondary prey source, although there are still too few observations to verify this. Most of the foraging activity apparently occurs on the ground, and males and young individuals appear to be particularly prone to terrestrial activity and foraging
This species remains widespread in West and Central Africa, marginally entering East Africa and southern Africa.