Anteaters, known as the "ant bear," belong to the family of the Myrmecophagidae genus. As we uncover fascinating anteater facts, we will also discover that sloths are more closely related to anteaters than armadillos.
And another interesting fact reveals these animals have a rather large appetite for their favorite food. An anteater can consume up to 30,000 ants and termites daily. Furthermore, anteaters lack teeth. Instead, their feeding technique relies on a long, sticky tongue.
Ready to dive deeper into the captivating world of anteaters? Read on to learn everything you need to know about the world of anteaters.
You're also invited to explore our collection of sloth facts, which share a close kinship with anteaters.
Anteaters are related to sloths and are part of the order Pilosa. They come in different colorations and fur patterns, but generally, anteaters have coarse fur with colors ranging from shades of brown to gray. They are 2 to 7 feet (0.6 to 2 meters) long and weigh around 20 to 100 pounds (9 to 45 kilograms).
As part of the order Pilosa, they are closely related to sloths, sharing several physical characteristics, lifestyle, and ecological adaptations. Both exhibit a slow-moving and arboreal nature, with specialized claws for climbing trees. They also have reduced or no teeth. Found in South and Central America, they inhabit forested habitats and have adapted to life in the trees1.
Within the Pilosa order, anteaters belong to the Vermilingua suborder, which translates to "worm tongue." This name aptly describes their specialized long and sticky tongues.
Anteaters encompass four species. The Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is the largest, featuring a black and white coat and a bushy tail. They have white front legs and can grow up to 7 feet long. The Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) is the smallest, with a golden-brown silky fur coat measuring around 14 to 20 inches long.
The Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), consisting of the southern and northern species, has a black body with a pale snout and a prehensile tail. They can range from 2 to 3.5 feet in length.
Giant Anteaters live in rainforests, deciduous forests, savannas, swamps, and grasslands. However, they typically prefer areas with a more open understory (vegetation that grows beneath the main canopy of a forest), providing them with better visibility and access to their preferred prey.
Silky Anteaters are smaller than giant anteaters and are well-adapted to life in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. They are particularly associated with areas abundant in silk-cotton trees (Ceiba spp.), providing them with a vital food source in arboreal ants.
Both the southern and the northern tamandua are flexible in their habitat choices and can survive in various environments. They are comfortable residing in both forests and savannas, regardless of wet or dry conditions.
Our next anteater fact pertains to their diet. Contrary to their name, anteaters don't exclusively eat ants. While anteaters are renowned for their voracious appetite for ants and termites, they don't exclusively rely on these insects as their sole food source. Anteaters also supplement their meals with other small invertebrates they come across.
They may consume beetles, larvae, grubs, and other small insects they encounter during their foraging expeditions. They possess a highly adaptable palate and opportunistically exploit available food resources.
Anteaters are not the only insectivores in the animal kingdom. Lizards, like the Komodo Dragon, also devour insects and pests.
Have you wondered how these animals eat without having teeth? Anteaters eat through their tongues2. The Giant Anteater's tongue is surprisingly long, often exceeding the length of its skull. It can extend up to two feet and can flick in and out rapidly, up to 150 times per minute.
They use their long tongues to enter tiny holes where ants and termites burrow. Furthermore, their tongues are slick with sticky saliva, causing the insects to stick to their long tongues.
Another interesting anteater fact is that anteaters are equipped with sharp claws that play a crucial role in their foraging strategy. These razor-sharp claws effectively open insect nests, such as termite mounds and ant hills. These claws are well-adapted for digging, enabling anteaters to create openings in the hard exteriors of insect nests.
Once they breach the termite nests, anteaters employ their long, sticky tongues to extract and consume the insects. Interestingly, they curl their feet to protect their claws while walking.
Giant Anteaters can eat up to 30,000 to 35,000 ants or termites daily. This high intake is necessary to sustain their energy needs3. Furthermore, unlike other animals, they rarely drink water. They rely on the moisture they get from the insects they eat.
Anteaters are solitary creatures4, and the only time they socialize is for reproduction. They typically have a mating season during the dry season when food is abundant. The specific timing of the reproduction can vary depending on the species and the geographic location.
After mating, male and female anteaters typically go their separate ways. Their gestation period can last for six months. When it's time to give birth, females deliver the pup upright and use their front legs and tails for support during delivery.
Surprisingly, the pup is born with open eyes and a full coat. It quickly climbs onto its mothers' back until it reaches two years. Then they become independent. Unlike other anteater species, adult Giant Anteaters don't often climb trees.
In agricultural settings, anteaters play a valuable role as beneficial animals by naturally controlling insects and pests population, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides. This natural pest control benefits farmers by minimizing crop damage and promotes a healthier environment by reducing reliance on harmful chemicals.
Though these mammals are normally slow and move at a snail's pace, they can put up a fight. Their long claws are powerful weapons, allowing them to fend off even formidable predators like big cats such as pumas and jaguars.
When sensing danger, the anteaters stand on their hind legs and use their sharp claws and sturdy tails to intimidate predators and defend themselves. Their dense hide adds an extra layer of protection. Their keen sense of smell helps them detect potential threats.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies Giant Anteaters as vulnerable. These species face significant threats to their survival, including habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal wildlife trade, roadkill and traffic accidents, poaching and hunting, and the impacts of climate change.
Deforestation and urbanization result in habitat loss, while the illegal wildlife trade poses a severe risk due to the demand for exotic pets and body parts. The expansion of roads increases the likelihood of these animals becoming roadkill. Moreover, incidental trapping affects their populations. It is estimated that their population has a 10% decrease in just a span of 10 years5!
Efforts to conserve them involve protecting their habitats, enforcing laws against hunting and trafficking, and raising awareness about their ecological importance.
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Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with A.
Bertassoni, A., Mourão, G., & De Cassia Bianchi, R. (2020). Space use by giant anteaters ( Myrmecophaga tridactyla ) in a protected area within human‐modified landscape. Ecology and Evolution, 10(15), 7981–7994.
Naples, V. L. (1999). Morphology, evolution and function of feeding in the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Journal of Zoology, 249(1), 19–41.
Redford, K. H., & Dorea, J. G. (1984). The nutritional value of invertebrates with emphasis on ants and termites as food for mammals. Journal of Zoology, 203(4), 385-395.
Shaw, J. H., Machado-Neto, J., & Carter, T. S. (1987). The behavior of free-living giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Biotropica, 19(3), 255-259.
Miranda, F., Bertassoni, A., & Abba, A. M. (2014). Myrmecophaga tridactyla, Giant Anteater. ResearchGate.
Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.
Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.
Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.