Giant Anteater

The largest of the anteaters, this species lives in relatively open countryside and relies on its amazingly long tongue and powerful claws to obtain its food. Giant anteaters tend to be more terrestrial than their smaller relatives, although they can climb and are remarkably good swimmers.

Giant anteaters live wherever there are large ant nests or termite mounds in abundance. They use their powerful claws to rip the colonies apart, then they use their sticky tongues to lick up the insects and their eggs and larvae. A single giant anteater can eat over 30,000 ants or termites in one day. They have a very efficient feeding method, with their tongue being able to slide in and out of the nest up to 160 times a minute. Its long tongue can be extended as much as 24 in (61 cm) and is covered with sticky saliva, that traps insects.

Giant anteaters have powerful digging claws on their forelimbs and incredibly long tongues - often over 60 cm (24 in) - inside their snouts. They have white stripes along their flanks and a long, bushy tail.

Despite being powerful diggers, giant anteaters shelter in thickets, not burrows, because of their awkward shape. They spend most of their time alone searching for food, with their long noses close to the ground. While on the move, they curl their forelimbs under their bodies so that they are actually walking on the backs of their forefeet and their claws do not hinder them. In areas far from human habitation, the giant anteater is active in the daytime, but near people it is only active at night.

Females often come into contact with one another, but males keep their distance. Breeding can take place all year. The young are carried on the backs of their mothers and stays with her until her next pregnancy is well advanced.

Distribution: Ranges from Guatemala in Central America through South America to the east of the Andes, as far south as northwestern parts of Argentina and Uruguay.

Habitat: Grasslands, forests and swamps.

Weight: 22 - 40 kg (49 - 88 lb); males are bigger.

Length: 165 - 220 cm (65 - 87 in).

Maturity: 2.5 - 4 years.

Gestation Period: 190 days; mother gives birth standing up, using her tail for support.

Breeding: 1, sometimes 2; weaning occurs at about 6 months.

Food: Feeds on ants and termites, although avoids aggressive army ants.

Lifespan: Up to 15 years in the wild; 26 years in captivity.

Status: Vulnerable.

Tail

Long and bushy, the tail is not prehensile when the anteater is climbing.

Eyes

The eyes are very small, and located quite low on the sides of the head.

Fur

The fur is coarse and stiff, with distinctive markings, including a chest band.

Front legs

Straight and greyish-white, there are prominent black stripes across the wrists and feet.

Snout

This is narrow and slightly curved, with the nostrils located at the end.

THE TONGUE

The giant anteater's slender tongue resembles a giant worm and can measure up to 61 cm (24 in) when extended.

The anteater's sharp front claws can rip apart the wall of ant or termite nests very easily.

Gallery of Giant Anteater