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4 Types of Anteaters: Species, Facts and Photos

Anteaters, known for their elongated snouts and distinguished tails, bring an interesting diversity to the animal kingdom. Recognizing the varied types of anteaters is significant, shaping our understanding of biological diversity and ecosystem balance. Start browsing to discover more about the importance of these unique creatures and the different forms they take in nature.

Related Read: Animals that Start with A.

Anteater Classification

These animals form the suborder Vermilingua, which means 'worm tongue,' aptly coined for their long and slender tongues designed to get into insect nests.

There are four extant species alive today. This diverse group includes the Giant Anteater, Northern Tamandua, Southern Tamandua, and Silky Anteater. We discussed each below and also mentioned other genera of extinct anteaters.

Anteaters inhabit a variety of ecosystems. Most types can adapt to their surroundings but prefer grasslands, woodlands, rainforests, and deciduous forests. Each species has its preferred habitat, adding to the ecosystem's richness.

Other animals related to anteaters can surprise many. Sloths are their closest relatives, but they also share common ancestors with armadillos. 

It may surprise you to learn that sloths and armadillos are the closest related animals to anteaters. Both are parts of the superorder Xenarthra, reflecting a shared ancestry of these American native placental mammals that dates back 60 million years ago.

Read more: Anteater Facts.

4 Types of Anteater Species

1. Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)

Giant Anteater
Photo by Sean P. Twomey on Pexels.

The Giant Anteater is a remarkable animal found in Central and South America. It is the largest member of its family, measuring up to 7 feet from snout to tail. It has an elongated snout, curved foreclaws, and a bushy tail.

Its diet mainly consists of ants, termites, and soft-bodied grubs, which it consumes using its 2-foot-long tongue, capable of scooping up 30,000 insects daily. 

The Giant Anteater has a strong sense of smell. It is 40 times stronger than humans, which helps it locate its food, compensating for its poor eyesight.

When threatened, the giant anteater stands up on its hind legs, freeing up its front legs to slash its enemy. Moreover, the Giant Anteater maintains a lower average body temperature than most mammals, which is likely due to its low-energy diet.

The IUCN labels the Giant Anteater as Vulnerable1. Principal threats include habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, wildfires, and vehicle collisions. Frequent hunting in some regions also contributes to their dwindling numbers, sparking a need for immediate conservation efforts.

2. Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus)

Silky Anteater
Photo by Quinten Questel on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Silky Anteater, or Pygmy Anteater, lives in South and Central America. They are lighter than Giant Anteaters, with golden brown fur and hints of silver on their backs.

It can grow up to 18 inches, including the tail. Despite being the smallest member of the anteater family, it is a powerful creature with notable features such as its prehensile tail, which serves as an extra limb. This tail helps it maintain balance and grip while navigating its leafy habitat. 

Moreover, the Silky Anteaters feed mainly on ants and termites, using their elongated, curved claws to reach these insects within their fortified nests. Once it breaches the nest, the anteater deploys its long, sticky tongue to trap its prey. This methodical process allows it to consume an impressive 5,000 ants daily.

These solitary creatures mate and give birth to just one offspring, a maximum of twice a year.

3. Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana)

Northern Tamandua
Photo by Charlie Jackson on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Northern Tamandua, also known as the Mexican Tamandua or Mexican Anteater, is a medium-sized anteater in the tropical forests of Central and South America. 

It has a pale yellow coat with a black vest marking. It can grow up to 51 inches, including its prehensile tail, which gives it agility in its arboreal habitat.

While it doesn’t rely on its vision, this nocturnal uses its extraordinary sense of smell and sharp hearing to locate its favorite meals: ants and termites. Its long, sticky tongue flicks in and out with lightning speed, making it easy for the Northern Tamandua to snatch up insects. Sometimes, they also eat fruits. 

4. Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla)

Southern Tamandua
Photo by Deni Williams on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Southern Tamandua, also called Collared Anteater or Lesser Anteater, is a South American mammal with pale yellow and coarse fur marked by a V-shaped pattern in black or dark brown. 

This creature lives in Trinidad, Venezuela, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and northern Argentina. It can thrive in dense forests, expansive savannas, and lush rainforests and is equally comfortable on the ground and in trees.

This type of anteater can reach up to 61 inches long. Unlike their northern counterparts, they vary in color. Some have incomplete vests, while others have full dark markings on their chests.

Its primary tool for hunting is its tongue and sharp claws. It uses these to tear into ant hills and termite mounds. Sometimes, they feed on fruits and beetles. 

Their tools also double as formidable weapons to ward off predators. They also emit a strong, musky odor like a skunk to keep potential threats at bay.

Extinct Anteater Species

The history of the anteater includes three known extinct genera: Palaeomyrmidon, Neotamandua, and Protamandua. Firstly, Palaeomyrmidon is the most ancient, dating back to the Miocene era. Fossils of this genus have been discovered mainly in Argentina. Their closest living relatives are the silky anteaters. 

Next, Neotamandua, existing around the same timeframe, has also left fossil traces in Argentina. They are closely related to modern-day Tamandua anteaters and Giant anteaters.

Lastly, Protamandua is another extinct genus with the same close relatives and timeframe as the previous one.

Conclusion

Anteaters control the populations of ants and termites, maintaining ecosystem balance. Although only one species has the vulnerable status, they all need help against habitat loss and hunting. Conservation efforts tailored to each species and habitat should ensure their future and the preservation of biodiversity.

1

Miranda, F., Bertassoni, A. & Abba, A.M. (2014). Myrmecophaga tridactyla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T14224A47441961. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by 17033374 on PIxabay.
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