KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Pilosa (Placental mammals)
FAMILY: Myrmecophagidae (Anteaters)
GENUS: Myrmecophaga (Giant Anteater)
SPECIES: Myrmecophaga tridactyla (Giant Anteater)
Giant anteaters are endemic to Central and South America.
Giant anteaters are the largest of the four living anteater species, and can grow up to 2.1 meters long! Their distinctive feature is their very long snout, which takes up most of their head space. They have thick long hair on their bodies which is mostly grey and salted with white, although the front legs are white. A black stripe lined with white runs from behind the snout to the mid torso. The head, body and tail are almost equally long, effectively dividing giant anteaters into three equal parts!
These anteaters prefer tropical forests and grasslands where they can easily find their preferred prey – termites. They are very dependent on their environment, since their body temperature is very low, only between 32 and 35 °C.
Anteaters don’t have teeth but their specialised tongue is 60cm long and perfect to help them get to their food, as they are mainly insectivores. They will consume ants, termites, larvae, worms, beatles and sometimes fruit. Their long snout and tongue can help them get into the nests of these insects, while they use the claws on their front paws to dig. They find their prey through scent and will eat about 30 000 insects per day!
Giant anteaters are mostly solitary in nature, except for mothers and their offspring. They don’t construct nests or dens and are mostly nomadic. Their ranges are about 1.61 – 2.4 square km.
The mating system of giant anteaters is not known. During courtship, a male will follow and sniff the female. Gestation is about 190 days, after which a single pup is born. Pups are carried on the mother’s back, where they are well camouflaged.
They are weaned at two months old, but may be carried on their mother’s back until they’re 9 months old! At 9 months they become independent and will be sexually mature at 2.5 – 4 years old. They can live up to 26 years in captivity.
Giant anteaters are preyed on by jaguars, dogs and humans. Giant anteaters don’t only use their very long claws on their front feet to dig! They can defend themselves by standing upright and using their claws to fend off jaguars! They have even killed humans! When they walk,they have to walk on their knuckles to keep their claws out of the way.
The biggest threats faced by giant anteaters are hunting and habitat loss due to agricultural encroachment and fires.
Did you know?
- They are protected from the bites of soldier ants and termites by their rubbery skin and very long hairs, which can measure up to 45 centimetres in length
- Giant anteaters are excellent swimmers and seem to like taking baths!
- When they eat, their tongue shoots out 150 times per minute!
- Gaint anteaters’ tongues are covered with sticky saliva that helps them to pick up insects
- They are related to sloths!