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The giant anteater with its long, pointed nose is easy to identify. Four species of anteater are found in the open forests and savannas of Central and South America. Along with its elongated nose, its head and neck are tapered, and it has small ears, eyes, and mouth. It does not have any teeth.
The coat of the anteater is coarse and shaggy—short on the head and very long on the silver-white striped back. The front feet of the anteater have five toes, of which the second and third toes are very strong and have long claws. The anteater will actually walk on its knuckles to protect these claws.
Although the anteater cannot see well, it has a very acute sense of smell, up to 40 times more powerful than man’s. It uses smell to locate its meals. Its diet is mainly ground-dwelling ants, although it will also eat termites, fruit, and larvae. Anteaters use their strong front feet to open the termite and anthills.
The anteater’s tongue has tiny spines that point backward and can stretch two feet (61 cm) down an ant hole. Also, the tongue is covered with a sticky substance that enables the anteater to extract insects quite easily from their hills. The giant anteater is solitary. In the wild, it forages during the daytime, but if its range is located near a town, it will wait until dark to feed. The giant anteater sleeps up to 15 hours a day, and its body temperature is 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which enables it to survive on its diet of ants.
The mating season for the anteater is March to May. After a 190-day gestation period, the female bears a single offspring. When the baby is born, it immediately attaches itself to its mother’s fur, where it blends in well with its mother and is difficult to detect. The mother will feed the baby for six months, and the baby will cling to its mother during that time, although it can walk after one month. Young anteaters will stay with their mother up to two years. The anteater is usually silent, but the baby will whistle shrilly when left alone.
The main predators for this mammal are jaguars, pumas, and other big cats. It does use its strong front legs and long claws for defense.
Edentata • Myrmecophagidae • Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Weight: 17.5 to 50.5 pounds (8 to 23 kg)
Length: 40 to 50 inches (100 to 130 cm)
Life Span: 26 years
Special Design Feature: The giant anteater has very long claws for digging into termite and ant hills. They also have a very long sticky tongue for extracting the termites.
Did You Know? The giant anteater’s sense of smell is 40 times stronger than man’s.