The largest of the anteater species, this animal has quite small eyes and an extremely long, sticky tongue. The fur of the Giant anteater is long, shaggy on its underparts, and coarse on its upperparts. This anteater has long, bushy tail and short, strong legs. The head of the Giant anteater is narrow and long, having a small, black snout on the end. The animal has 5 digits on each foot with large, sharp claws on the 3 middle digits of the front paws. The fur of the anteater is usually greyish or brown. In addition, the animal has black and white diagonal markings, covering its shoulders. Read Pritish Kumar Halder article below:
The area of their distribution covers Central and South America, stretching from Belize and Guatemala to northern parts of Argentina. Giant anteaters are found in a wide variety of habitats such as tropical dry forests, rainforests, savanna, open grasslands, shrublands, and flooded grassy plains. They can also be found in upland forests and plantations.
Characteristics and adaptations
The giant anteater can be identified by its large size, elongated muzzle, and long bushy tail. It has a total body length of 182 to 217 cm (5 ft 11+1⁄2 in to 7 ft 1+1⁄2 in). Males weigh 33 to 50 kg (73 to 110 lb) and females weigh 27 to 47 kg (60 to 104 lb), making the giant anteater the biggest extant species in its suborder. The head of the giant anteater, at 30 cm (12 in) long, is particularly elongated, even when compared to other anteaters. Its tubular snout, which ends in its tiny mouth opening and nostrils, takes up most of its head. Its eyes and ears are relatively small. It has poor eyesight, but its sense of smell is 40 times more sensitive than that of humans.
Even for an anteater, the neck is especially thick compared to the back of the head, and a small hump is found at the back of the neck. The coat is mostly greyish, brown or black and salted with white. The forelimbs are white, with black bands around the wrists, while the hindlimbs are dark. Thick black bands with white outlines stretch from throat to shoulder, ending in triangular points. The body ends in a brown tail. The coat hairs are long, especially on the tail, which makes the tail look larger than it actually is. A stiff mane stretches along the back. The bold pattern was thought to be disruptive camouflage, but a 2009 study suggests it is warning coloration. While adult males are slightly larger and more muscular than females, with wider heads and necks, visual sex determination can be difficult. The penis and testes are located internally between the rectum and urinary bladder in males, and females have a single pair of mammary glands near the armpits
Habits and Lifestyle
Normally, Giant anteaters are diurnal animals. However, they can become nocturnal during specific weather conditions or nearby human settlements. They usually sleep in abandoned burrows, hollows in the ground, or areas with dense vegetation. Giant anteaters are solitary animals, except with mothers and they’re young. They are wandering animals, frequently moving from one spot to another. When they encounter each other in the wild, they can ignore each other, run away or even display agonistic behavior. They use their forelimbs to fight, standing in a bipedal position and using the tail to keep balance. In spite of being a terrestrial animal, the Giant anteater is an excellent swimmer. Also, though they don’t tend to climb in the wild, they occasionally try to climb out of enclosures in captivity. In order to communicate with each other, Giant anteaters use various vocalizations. Thus, when alarmed, they give out ‘bellowing’ call. On the other hand, the infants usually make ‘grunting’ sound, when falling off their mother’s back.
Diet and Nutrition
These animals are specialist carnivorous (myrmecophagous, insectivorous) predators, feeding mostly on termites and ants. However, they can also consume soft-bodied grubs, eggs as well as fruit.
Giant anteaters have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with more than one female. Breeding depends on the region; they can breed either throughout the year or seasonally. Usually, the male and the female mate several times, remaining together for up to 3 days. The gestation period lasts 6 months, yielding a single baby. The pup is born with its full fur and markings, being fed from the mammary glands of its mother for about 6 months. Then, for about a year, the infant moves, riding on its mother’s back, in spite of being able to gallop slowly. The youngster will stay with its mother for up to 2 years. Finally, at the time when the female becomes pregnant again, the pup leaves to begin its own life. Reproductive maturity is reached at 2-4 years old.
Threats to these animals’ populations are many. Thus, in some areas of their range, Giant anteaters are hunted for food, persecuted as pests as well as captured as pets or for illegal trade. In some regions, especially in Central America, the Giant anteater is threatened with loss of habitat. On the other hand, living in grasslands, this animal is threatened by fires. In Brazil, for example, the burning of sugar cane plantations before their harvest causes serious burn injuries among Giant anteaters, leading to huge numbers of death. In addition, the Giant anteater is frequently killed by dogs or on roads.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Giant anteater total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
These animals are very important for the ecosystem of their habitat. Being specialist predators of certain insect species, they hugely influence local insect communities.
Fun Facts for Kids
- The Giant anteater is one of the two mammal species, not having any teeth, even in adult individuals.
- The Giant anteater is called “tridactyla”, which means “3 fingers”: the animal has 5 digits on each foot, 3 of which have prominent, extra-long claws.
- Compared to other mammals with similar body size, this anteater possesses the longest tongue, protruding out of its mouth for more than 60 cms (2 ft).
- The tail of the Giant anteater greatly helps the animal. It acts like a bicycle kickstand, allowing the anteater to keep balance while standing on two legs.
- Their sense of smell is 40 times stronger than that of humans’.
- Being a specialist predator of termites and ants, this animal, however, is not immune to their bites. For this reason, the anteater does not stay long at a colony of ants or termites, feeding for a minute and then moving on.
- The body temperature of this anteater is one of the lowest among mammals – 91 degrees Fahrenheit (32.7 degrees Celsius). This is due to their low-calorie insect diet.
- The Giant anteater may travel an average of 3,700 m (12,100 ft) per day.
- The Giant anteater is capable of eating a huge amount of ants: up to 30,000-35,000 ants per day.