|Geographical Range||Central and South America (southern Belize to northern Argentina)|
|Habitat||Swamps, humid forests, savannahs|
|Scientific Name||Myrmecophaga tridactyla|
|Conservation Status||Near threatened|
Watch Out for That Tongue!
What's the first thing you notice about a giant anteater? Probably its long snout. But the animal's tongue is even longer, extending up to two feet!
A Giant among Anteaters
Giant anteaters are the largest of the four anteater species -- up to 50 inches long, plus another 25 to 35 inches for the fan-like tail. In color, they're mostly brown to gray brown, with a darker stripe (bordered by white) that extends from the throat to the middle of the back.
It's obvious that anteaters like to eat...well, ants! But they also eat termites and the eggs and cocoons of these insects. Sometimes they broaden the menu, snacking on beetle larvae and fruits.
Giant anteaters sniff out their prey (since their eyesight is poor). They use their powerful front limbs and large claws to dig into termite and ant mounds. Then they use their long, sticky tongue to slurp up their food. Yum!
The season for anteater mating is fall. After a pregnancy of some six months, a female gives birth to a single baby in the spring or summer. The birth takes place in a sheltered place, like a thick clump of shrubs.
This newborn is no helpless baby! It has sharp claws, and can crawl onto its mom's back shortly after being born. The little anteater will nurse for about six months, but will stay with its mom for up to two years, until it's reached maturity.
Except for mother-baby groups, giant anteaters spend most of their time alone. They're active during the day (except in areas inhabited by people, where they're active at night). They spend a lot of time foraging for food on the ground, though they climb trees on occasion.
When they're not eating, they're usually relaxing. They rest for up to 15 hours a day (what a life!) in a shallow depression they scoop out of the ground. They cover their body with their bushy tail, which helps conceal them from predators.
Attack of the Giant Anteaters
Giant anteaters have only two natural predators -- pumas and jaguars. Sometimes the anteaters try to outrun their attackers, but other times they fight. Rearing up on their hind legs, they slash at their foes with their sturdy forearms and sharp claws (which can be up to four inches long!). Giant anteaters have also been known to grab an attacker, crushing it with their powerful front limbs. These are not anteaters to be trifled with!
Even Giants Need Help
Giant anteaters are in danger of extinction in the wild. They've disappeared from most of their historic range in Central America -- victims of habitat loss. In South America, these animals are often hunted as trophies or captured by animal dealers.
What can be done to help giant anteaters? One solution is to work with native communities, helping them learn how to live in harmony with these animals (see side story). Through efforts like these, giant anteater populations may one day recover.
- Giant anteaters can eat as many as 30,000 ants or termites in a single day!
- The home ranges of giant anteaters vary in size, depending on the density of ant and termite mounds in the area. Home ranges can be as small as 124 acres, or as large as 6,200 acres!