Introduction to Anteater Animal

Anteater belongs to the suborder of Vermilingua which means worm tongue and anteater name is common for the four extant mammal species. It is commonly known as ant eaters and termites. Each and every individual species have other names in English and other languages. Including the sloths, the anteaters are included within the order of Pilosa. The term "anteater" is often used to refer to the unrelated aardvark, numbat, echidna, pangolin, and some Oecobiidae members.


Anteaters are mostly found in Central America and South America. They are known to have several defining features that include a long anteater tongue that is covered by small spines and sticky saliva. The Anteaters usually use both of the above-mentioned features to capture the ants and other termites. The anteaters do not have any teeth and instead of the teeth they heavily rely on the 2 meter long tongues to consume their food which is usually crushed in its mouth, before swallowing it. Anteaters are also found to have very large claws on their front feet which are usually used for ripping and opening the big insect’s nests. The anteaters will also use these claws to defend themselves against any kind of predators. 


Anteaters are mammals that are limited to having only one species as they have involved throughout the centuries. There are many species of anteaters. The giant anteater or the  Myrmecophaga tridactyla, which is around 1.8 m or 5 ft 11 inches long including the tail; the silky anteater or  Cyclopes didactylus, which is about 35 cm or 14 inches high; the southern tamandua or collared anteater Tamandua tetradactyla, which is around 1.2 m or 3 ft 11 inches tall; and the northern tamandua. 


In this article, we are going to discuss the anteater, anteater meaning, its habitat, behavior, structural features, and also a few of the most frequently asked questions will also be answered. 

Anteater Name

Anteaters are the several medium-sized ants or insects eating mammals that are usually found in the Southern Hemisphere. Anteaters are edentate, which means they don't have teeth. They do, though, consume insects with their long anteater tongue which make up the majority of their diet. The most well-known of the four species, Giant Anteaters, can consume up to 35,000 ants or termites in a single day. Anteaters most likely want to be with their kinds and they like to be disturbed. Though they don't have teeth, they are found to have large paws which can easily kill any predator, they use these paws to either protect themselves from the predators or use it to open the huge nest of insects on the trees or underground. 

The Scientific Name of the Anteaters 

Myrmecophaga tridactyla is the scientific term for the giant anteater, anteater meaning refers to the three-fingered anteater in Greek. When most people think of anteaters, they think of this species. Southern tamanduas (Tamandua tetradactyla), northern tamanduas (Tamandua mexicana), and silky anteaters (Cyclopes didactylus) make up the rest of the anteater family. In both Tupi and Brazilian Portuguese, the anteater is referred to as Tamandua. Tetradactyla means "four claws" in Greek. Didactylus is derived from the Greek words cyclopes, which means squirrel, and cyclopes, which means two-toed.

Evolution of the Anteaters 

  • Anteaters are found to be the only surviving family from the three families which was considered to be the most diverse group of all the mammals that had occupied South America while it was geographically isolated before the invasion of the animals from the North American continent. The other two families are the Sloths and the armadillos. 

  • In the past, it was believed that the anteaters were related to the aardvarks and pangolins and it was because of the physical similarities that these animals share. But as time passed, these similarities are not considered a common sign of a common ancestor but are considered a sign of convergent evolution. All the species of anteaters have evolved to have a powerful set of digging forearms, a long tongue that could be as long as 2 meters that is helpful in capturing as many insects as possible, and toothless tube-like snouts to subsist by raiding termite mounds. Because of this resemblance, aardvarks are sometimes known as "anteaters"; the pangolin is known as the "scaly anteater," and both the aardvark and the giant anteater are referred to as "antbears."

Anteater Behavior and Appearance 

  • There are four species of anteaters in the world and out of all the four the largest one is the Giant Anteater which usually is eight feet long from the nose to the tail region and it weighs up to 140 pounds. The giant anteater has a very narrow head and long nose with small eyes and round ears. Giant anteaters have coarse grey or brown fur with a white and black line that runs the length of their bodies. The bushy tail can reach a length of two to three feet. Giant anteaters are also known to have long front claws which they usually curl under to walk and they also use their powerful legs and claws to protect themselves from larger predators and also they turn aggressive when they are cornered by a group of animals. They use their tail for balance and the anteaters in general and asocial animals which means they avoid other animals which include other anteaters as well. They only meet other anteaters just to mate. 

  • Anteaters are known to have poor vision and due to that, they use their keen sense of smell which is considered to be fifty times more powerful than humans and 20 times more powerful than the dogs to search the food. Giant anteaters have two-foot-long tongues that start at their breastbones. Their tongues are covered in backwards-facing spiny projections, which, together with their oily saliva, aids in bug collection.

  • The Northern Tamanduas are the other species of anteaters that are much smaller than the Giant Anteaters. Their body length ranges from 1.5 feet to 2.5 feet with their tails measuring 1.3 feet to 2.2 feet. Northern Tamanduas have a distinct black “V” running down their backs and are fawn to brownish in color. These anteaters are present at all hours of the day and night, normally for eight hours at a time, and spend about half of their time in hollow trees.

  • Southern tamanduas, also known as collared anteaters, have a body length of 1.7 to 2.9 feet and a tail length of 1.3 to 1.9 feet. Some have dark black marks on a white, tan, or brown body. The tail's underside and tip are hairless and somewhat scaly. They are always nocturnal, but they do come out during the day. Collared anteaters spend a lot of time foraging in the trees because they are clumsy on the ground. When attacked in a forest, this anteater can grab a branch with its hind feet and tail and defend itself with its strong forearms.

  • The Tamanduas are also known as the Stinkers of the forest just because of their ability to release a skunk-like stink bomb from a gland under its tail when it is attacked.

  • Silky anteaters are other species of the anteaters and probably the smallest of all the species and it weighs less than a pound. They are also nocturnal animals and live up in the trees and due to their size and the fear of being attacked by other large animals, they rarely descend to the ground. The Silky anteaters almost look like the little cream puff because of their silky fur which heavily resembles the seed pods of the Ceiba trees on which they primarily live. Since they are rare to come across in the wild, little is known about their social habits.

  • In conclusion, we can say that the anteaters are solitary mammals usually prepared to defend themselves and their territories which is about 3-6 kilometers. They are asocial animals who are not even bothered to enter another anteater of the same sex. Male anteaters are found to enter the female anteater’s territory just to mate and when a terrestrial conflict occurs they are found to be very aggressive. Anteaters have low vision but a keen sense of smell, which is crucial for foraging, eating, and defense in most animals. Their hearing is said to be excellent.

  • Anteaters, and other xenarthrans, are among the lowest body temperatures of any species, fluctuating between 33 and 36 °C  and can withstand greater temperature variations than other mammals. Anteaters' daily energy consumption from food is just marginally higher than their daily energy needs, and they probably coordinate their body temperatures so that they stay cool while resting and warm up while foraging.

  • The images given have listed out all the four different species of an anteater.

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Anteater Distribution 

Range 

  • The Northern tamanduas and Silky anteaters have been found to the extent their ranges as far as the north and southeastern Mexico. The Giant Anteaters on the other hand can be found as far as the north of Central America. The Southern tamanduas are found to range from the south to Uruguay and also in the regions of eastern Brazil. 

  • During much of the Cenozoic Age, it is believed that the anteaters were restricted to South America, which was once an island continent. As part of the Great American Interchange, anteaters widened their range into Central America after the Isthmus of Panama evolved around three million years ago.

Habitat 

  • Anteaters are mammals that are usually found in the habitats such as the rainforests, grasslands, savannas, and dry tropical forests. 

  • The giant anteater is a creature that can be found in Central and South America's grasslands, wetlands, jungles, and lower mountain ranges. They need vast grassy areas with lots of ants, as well as patches of trees, to survive.

  • The Northern tamanduas are found to live in the rainforest, plantations, gallery forest, and arid savannahs. Northern tamanduas also live near streams and trees with a lot of vines, which are also home to ant and termite nests. They sleep in hollow trees or other animals' burrows while they are not around. Northern tamanduas sometimes swim between islands in Panama.

  • The Southern tamanduas are known to live in South America. At elevations of up to 6,500 ft, it stretches from Venezuela and Trinidad southward to northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay. Southern tamanduas also live along streams and rivers.

  • The silky anteaters (Cyclopes didactylus) is considered to be a native of the hottest parts of Central America and it is as big as a fully grown cat and it is yellow in color.

Anteaters Population and Feeding Habits 

  • Population: Due to the overhunting by humans and the habitat loss which is caused by industrialization, the giant anteater’s population is found to be decreasing and there are reports that indicate that about only five thousand to ten thousand of the giant anteater’s species are left on this planet. Tamanduas and silky anteaters are fairly common, according to the IUCN, but no population figures are available.

  • Diet of an anteater: Nature has developed the anteaters in such a way that they are specialized to feed on small insects. These small insects are not the same for every anteater species as they differ from each other. Each anteater has its own insect preferences Tiny species of anteaters are only interested in arboreal insects that live on small trees, while large species can get through the hard coating of terrestrial insect nests. Anteaters have followed the feeding practice of licking up vast numbers of ants and termites as soon as possible to avoid invertebrates' claws, stings, and other defenses.

  • Upon absorbing the daily routine of the anteater it was noted that the anteaters usually spend about a minute at a particular nest before moving on to another one. The Giant anteaters on the other hand visit at least 200 nests per day so that they could consume thousands of insects to completely satisfy their caloric requirements. 

  • Thousands of tiny hooks or filiform papillae cover the anteater's tongue, which is used to lock insects together with large volumes of saliva. Swallowing and tongue contraction is made easier by side-to-side jaw motions. The tongue is tied to the sternum and runs at a quick rate of 150 times per minute. The anteater's stomach has hardened folds, analogous to a bird's gizzard, and uses quick contractions to grind the insects, aided by small quantities of swallowed sand and gravel.

Anteaters Reproduction and the Life Cycle

  • All the female anteaters are known to give birth to a single baby. The gestation period is not the same as it varies by different species and also by the region in which they are. The gestation period for giant anteaters is around 190 days, while the gestation period for tamanduas is between 130 and 150 days. The gestation period for silky anteaters is 120 days.

  • The baby anteaters are known to climb onto their mother’s backs and have a full coat of hair and adult-like markings. The babies spent most of their nursing period on their mother’s backs as it keeps them safe from the predators and they remain there until they are half the size of their mother’s. Studies show that the baby anteaters spend almost two years with their mothers and usually become independent when they are capable of protecting themselves from other predators.

  • Male anteaters can breed every nine months and anteaters usually reach sexual maturity between the ages of 3 to 4 years. Anteaters’ lifespan is fourteen years when they are in the wild and they can live up to twenty-six years when they are in captivity. 

  • Tamandua females are polyestrous, which means that if they do not get pregnant, they can come into heat several times during the mating season. Mating takes place in the autumn, and the babies are born in the spring. Since these babies cling to their mothers' backs, the female will sometimes position a baby on a healthy branch when foraging. They have a median lifetime of around 9 years.

  • Female silky anteaters raise their young in a dry leaf nest within a tree trunk. Both parents raise the children, with the male holding the baby on his back at times. Semi-digested insects are regurgitated by parents to feed their children. The average lifetime of these species is 2.3 years.

Various Threats and Predators of the Anteaters 

  • Close to ninety percent of the anteaters are present in zoos around the world. Although the birth rate is low or very rare in zoos, breeding occurs year-round in captivity. The San Diego Zoo is one of the few places in the world where you can see anteaters. The first anteaters arrived in 1937 from Paraguay, and the first birth occurred in 1980 at the zoo. Anteaters in captivity may eat a specially manufactured high protein diet that includes fruit, meat, and insects, while wild anteaters may eat a variety of foods.

  • Anteaters are considered to be antisocial animals and that is the reason that both the San Diego and the Denver Zoo keep their anteaters off the exhibit as it was found that anteaters turn violent when they see huge gatherings. Most zoos use the anteaters primarily as the animal ambassadors which means that they are basically only displayed for a special event or outreach programs. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: List Out a Few of the Interesting Facts About the Anteater Animal.

Ans: These are a few of the interesting facts about the anteaters:

  • Anteaters with the help of their long tongue can eat up to thirty thousand ants and termites in a single day. 

  • Through its sharp teeth, a Giant Anteater cuts open an anthill. It will twitch its tongue upto 150 times a minute while feeding. The ants will bite the anteater to protect themselves, so an anteater does not waste longer than a minute on a single nest.

  • Once a year, female anteaters give birth to a single pup. These pups sometimes sit on their mothers' shoulders, making the mother seem larger and deterring predators. After two years, young anteaters will abandon their mother.

  • Anteaters usually walk on their knuckles or the wrist as they have very sharp claws which if they are not careful can result in stabbing themselves. 

  • The male giant anteater usually lives for around 15 years if it’s in the wild whereas the female giant anteater lives for at least 10 years. 

  • The long tongue of the giant anteater is well-known, but its tail is equally remarkable. The tail not only makes up about half of the giant anteater's circumference, but it can also keep the anteater cool throughout the day and warm at night. The giant anteater's tail can also be used for camouflage.

  • Anteaters are not vicious, so they will protect themselves by using their claws, rearing up on their hind legs, and supporting themselves on their tail. A puma or a jaguar may also be defeated by a giant anteater. Will an anteater, on the other hand, kill a human? Yes, that is possible. Anteaters who feel endangered have attacked and killed a number of people.

  • The giant anteaters have legs that have like panda faces and these are considered to be part of the giant anteater’s protective coloring. The baby anteaters also have a similar covering which allows them to disappear while making their mother look bigger.

  • Giant anteaters have been around for over a quarter-century and it can be daunting to feed a giant anteater over 30,000 ants and termites per day in a zoo! Instead, zookeepers can use an insect and fruit paste that the anteater will lick.

Q2: Describe the Physical Characteristics of an Anteater?

Ans: All anteaters have elongated snouts equipped with a thin tongue that can be extended to a length greater than the length of the head; their tube-shaped mouths have lips but no teeth. They use their large, curved foreclaws to tear open ant and termite mounds and for defense, while their dense and long fur protects them from attacks from the insects. All species except the giant anteater have a long prehensile tail.

Q3: What is the Actual Difference Between an Anteater and an Aardvark?

Ans: Both the anteater and an aardvark have been found to have similar characteristics such as their insect diet and the absence of scaly and spiny areas on their skins, but in spite of few similarities they are found to be quite different. Anteaters live in Central and South America, while aardvarks live in Africa, separated by an ocean. They are also classified according to their taxonomic classifications. Anteaters belong to the Xenarthra order, while aardvarks belong to the Tubulidentata order. Aardvarks have teeth, while anteaters do not.