GENUS & SPECIES: Myrmecophaga tridáctila
Where do they usually live?
They live in South to Uruguay and northwestern Argentina, east to the Andes and north into southern Mexico, foraging the grasslands, open dry, deciduous and rain forests.
Length: 100-300 cm plus 65-90 cm tail
Weight: 30-35 kg.
With the quite tubular muzzle elongated to house the extremely long tongue, the profile of anteaters is quite recognizable. The terrestrial giant anteater has a stiff, heavy brush tail. The hair, generally, is straw-like bristles, with those on the back and tail being quite long.
The colours of the Giant Anteater are gray-brown, with the bristly crest and arm hair finely banded. There is a black, or dark mark across the chest, up over the shoulder and along the back.
Wild: Ant species without heavy jaws or chemical defenses, like carpenter ants, and worker termites, some 30,000 per day.
All anteaters use the same fear-defense posture. They rear onto the hind legs and brandish extended claws. The arms are extremely powerful and animals, including humans, caught in their grip, succumb. The claws, used to rip open concrete-hard termite and ant mounds, can cause tremendous damage.
Anteaters seldom spend more than a couple of minutes feeding at any one nest. Only a few thousand insects are removed at one feeding and then the nest is abandoned to repairs. The anteaters circulate around their territories, feeding lightly here and there, never destroying any one nest and, therefore, never eliminating any of their food base. Termites and ants recover losses very rapidly.
Anteaters, like sloths, have a very slow metabolism, maintaining a low body temperature and sleeping a large portion of the day. Excellent hearing awakens them at the slightest sound.
Anteaters mark territory with anal gland secretions. The sense of smell is important to all anteaters, the species of ants and termites are identified by smell before the nest is ripped open.
The mouth of anteaters is very small, but the tongue is very long, protrusible to 24 inches. It is heavily coated with thick, sticky saliva when it is in use. The tongue has backward-pointing papillae that can be stiffened into spines. It is attached, muscularly, to the sternum and can be flicked in and out at the incredible rate of 150 or more times a minute. Insects are mashed against the hard pallet.
The color pattern breaks up the outline and adds to the camouflage. Interestingly, the position that the young anteater takes, while riding on the mother's back, causes the line on the juvenile to line up with the line on the mother, making the youngster virtually invisible.
BREEDING & GROWTH:
They are normally solitary. The Gestation is about 190 days, the female delivers while standing upright, propped by the tail.
The newborn climbs through the fur onto the mother's back and she then licks it clean. Usually there is only one precocious youngster, which is suckled for about six months. The youngster usually stays with the mother until nearly fully grown, about two years.
Hunted as a source of food and for their skins. It is captured to take it to zoo, circus or to collectionists. It is attacked by dogs and also it is proved that it is usually run into by cars in routes.
The main threats to giant anteaters are humans. Human population encroachment, habitat destruction and hunting have caused numbers to dwindle. Giant anteaters are now found in small localized populations.
They are commonly found burned to death after severe grass or forest fires.
By Javier and Soledad