Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla

The giant anteater or ant bear (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is a species of anteater that can be found in South and Central America. Its range extends from Honduras to northern areas of Argentina, where it prefers to reside in many habitats including tropical rainforests and grasslands. This species received its scientific name, which translates to anteater and three fingers, from Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

The giant anteater reaches an average body length between 5.97 and 7.12 feet, with a weight of up to ninety pounds in males. This species can be distinguished by its size as well as its long snout, which reaches an average length of twelve inches. Its coat is primarily grey in color and flecked with white. The hind legs are darker in color while the fore legs are whitish in color with black bands encircling the wrists. Thick black fur extends from the throat to the shoulders, lined by thin white stripes. The tail holds brown hairs that are much longer than the hairs located along the body. Although the scientific name of this species suggests it has three toes, it has five toes on each paw. Four of these toes on the forepaws hold long claws, which can be used for defense and for foraging. It must walk on its toes, in a similar manner to gorillas, in order to avoid puncturing its own forepaws.

Studies have shown that the giant anteater is active during the daytime and nighttime hours, depending upon the season and their location. This species will rest in open areas or in forested areas, depending upon the weather, although they are most often found resting in dense vegetation in shallow holes dug into the ground. Although this anteater is terrestrial, it is known to be a skilled swimmer and fair climber. Its main diet consists of termites and ants, which it consumes by destroying a nest and using its long snout to dig out the insects. It can consume up to thirty thousand insects in one day and will also eat the larvae of bees and beetles.

The home ranges of this species vary in size depending upon the area in which they live, but can reach up to 6,200 acres. It is a solitary anteater that typically encounters other individuals when searching for a mate. Females have been found to tolerate strange males more than other males of this species. It can breed throughout the year with males approaching females for courtship. Pairs have often been seen feeding at the same sites and can stay together for up to three days, mating multiple times during this period. After a pregnancy period of up to 190 days, one blind pup is born. Pups are born with similar markings to adults that help them blend in with their mothers, who carry the young on their backs. Pups begin consuming solid food at three months of age and are weaned at ten months of age.

The giant anteater has been an important cultural figure to indigenous people in many myths and folktales. This species is also popular in modern culture, appearing as many characters in art and entertainment. Despite its popularity, it has been eliminated in some areas of its range and is threatened by habitat loss and hunting. It does occur in some protected areas and appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable.”

Image Caption: Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark, 2005. Credit: Malene Thyssen/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)