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All Creatures,

Episode 77: A Giant that’s an Anteater

March 05, 2019

A species many forget, the Giant Anteater when seen captures many hearts. Sadly, the Giant Anteater population is in serious decline and may be heading towards extinction.  Their story highlights the plight of many animals in South America.

Giant Anteater Description

The Giant Anteater is considered a “giant” of their family. From the tip of their nose to their tails, they can be over 7 feet (2 meters) long. Males can weigh up to 90 lbs (40 kg) with females being slightly smaller. Their variation in grey coat patterning is thought to act as camouflage as they are vulnerable to predation by jaguars.

Not much is known about the history of the Giant Anteater due to a lack of fossil evidence. However, scientists do know they date back at least 25 million years, and suspect they go far back as 60 million years. There are three species of anteaters:

  • Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)
  • Silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus)
  • Northern (Tamandua mexicana) and southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla)

The closest relatives to the anteaters are the sloths.

Giant Anteater Facts

Males live up to 15 years with females living only up to 11 years. One of the most interesting facts about the Giant Anteater is for a mammal it has the lowest average body temperature at 91 F (37 C) due to its low-calorie diet of ants and termites. These animals also have poor eyesight and hearing, but have an incredible sense of smell, often considered 40x that of humans. They also are excellent swimmers.

Giant Anteaters survive on a diet of termites and ants. They can consume up to 30,000 insects a day with their 2 feet long tongues. Scientists have evaluated the relationships between anteaters and their prey and have studied their co-evolutionary relationships. Over time, the insects have developed defenses against anteaters. This has resulted in anteaters only foraging on ant or termite mounds for a limited time, and after a time the insects mount their defenses, and eventually able to drive off the anteater who moves on.

Giant Anteater Conservation

Giant Anteaters are considered vulnerable by the IUCN. Due to habitat loss, poaching, and other pressures the population is in decline with an estimated only 5,000 left in the wild.

Conservation Tips

You can help the environment by planting a small garden in your yard to grow your own fruit and vegetables. While you may see a tiny garden as not doing much to help, if enough of us do it, it becomes a collective effort. We can help native wildlife, reduce carbon emissions, and grow healthy foods for consumption.

Organizations to Support

Edge of Existence

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Giant Anteater

 

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