ANTEATER PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
The anteater has a long snout, the part of the face that includes the nose, mouth, and jaw. While the anteater is toothless, it has a long tongue that it uses to catch the ants that make up the major part of its diet. The anteater uses its snout and claws to reach into ant nests. Long hair on the anteater’s body is a protection against bites from the ants that they hunt and eat.
The anteater family includes three genera (JEN-uh-rah) and four species. A genus (JEE-nus), the singular of genera, is a group of animals with similar characteristics. Size is the primary difference in each anteater genus, and that difference is represented in the animals’ common names.
From head to tail, the giant anteater measures a total of 110 inches (280 centimeters), and weighs from 48 to 88 pounds (22 to 39 kilograms).
Next in size are the tamanduas (tuh-MAN-duh-wahz), which are also known as the “lesser anteaters.” Tamandua translates to “ant catcher” in Portuguese. The northern tamandua is brown with black fur on its back, and the southern tamandua’s fur color ranges from blond to brown.
The silky anteater is also called the pygmy anteater. The maximum head-to-tail length is 21 inches (52 centimeters). Weight ranges from 6 to 13 ounces (175 to 357 grams).
The silky anteater and tamandua have prehensile tails that they use to grab and hold onto objects like trees. Both species have soft, silky hair in contrast to the coarse (rough) fur of the giant anteater.
ANTEATER GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
Anteaters live in Central and South America, in Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.
Silky anteaters live in trees in rainforests, areas where abundant rainfall produces heavy growth. They also inhabit grassland, areas where there are few trees. Giant anteaters live on the ground and are found mainly on grassland. They also live in wetlands, where the land is flat and wet. They live in moist forests and may live near rainforests. Tamandua live in trees or on the ground. They are found in rainforests, grassland, and dry forests.
A giant anteater eats about 30,000 ants each day. The tamandua eat about 9,000 in a day, and the silky anteater can eat 5,000 in one day. The giant anteater and tamandua also consume termites.
ANTEATER BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
All anteaters are believed to be solitary, only meeting up to breed. They are thought to be polygynous (puh-LIH-juh-nus), meaning males mate with more than one female. After giant anteaters mate, the male leaves, but the male silky anteater helps to feed its young while it’s in the nest. The gestation period, the amount of time before the female gives birth, is 120 to 150 days for silky anteaters and tamandua. The giant anteater gives birth after about 190 days.
Female anteaters usually give birth to one young. The female’s claws are so sharp that she cannot touch her cub. It climbs onto her back and lives there for six to nine months. Silky anteaters are nocturnal, meaning that they are active at night. The other anteaters are active at night and during the day. Anteaters use their claws to protect themselves against predators including hawks, mountain lions, and people.
ANTEATERS AND PEOPLE
People sometimes keep anteaters to eliminate ants and termites from their homes, as well as keeping them as pets. In addition, people kill giant anteaters and eat their meat. People kill tamandua to make rope out of the tendon, a cord-like tissue that attaches muscle to bone, in the tail.
Giant anteaters are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Threats to giant anteaters’ survival include the loss of habitat, and lack of food as trees are cut down and insect nests are destroyed. Habitat loss could threaten other anteaters in the future.