The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is found in Central and South America. It is the only species in the Myrmecophaga genus.
It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats, including grasslands, deciduous forests and rainforests. It feeds mainly on ants and termites, sometimes up to 30,000 insects in a single day.
The Giant Anteater is one of only two mammals without any teeth even in a mature state (the Pangolin being the other). An anteater instead crushes insects it consumes using hard growths found on the inside of its mouth, and its muscular stomach. Sand and small rocks have also been found in anteaters’ stomachs. This suggests that these are ingested to aid digestion (possible gastroliths).
It grows to a size of 6 feet (1800mm) to 8 feet (2400mm) long, including a 3-foot (900mm) to 4-foot (1200mm) torso and tail. Generally it weighs from 65 (29 kg) to 140 pounds (65 kg).
The Giant Anteater is covered with stiff, straw-like hair. The hair grows up to 15.75 in (40 cm) long on the tail. Young have soft hair until it matures. The dominant coloring may be grey or brown, but all have a diagonal black and white shoulder stripe.
The Giant Anteater is generally acknowledged to have a keen sense of smell. This is used to locate ants, but is thought to have poorer sight and hearing.
The anteater has five digits on each foot. The middle three digits of the forefeet have elongated claws. These are extremely strong and are used to break open ant and termite mounds in order to feed. Also, they are used as an effective defense from predators. The anteater walks on its knuckles in order to protect them, giving it a shuffling gait. The forefeet also have one smaller claw, and the rear feet have five small claws.
The anteater has the longest tongue in relation to its body size of any mammal. Its tongue can reach two feet (600mm) in length, with a width of only 1/2 inch (12.5mm). The anteater can cover its tongue in sticky saliva. This allows it to trap ants, and can extend and withdraw it up to 150 times per minute.
The Giant Anteater is a nomadic animal, moving from one anthill to the next. An anteater will switch to another nest when the stings become too frequent and painful.
The Giant Anteater does not sleep in any fixed place, instead curling up in abandoned burrows and hollows. It covers its body with its long, bushy tail to sleep.
It bears a single offspring after a gestation period of 190 days. The offspring will stay near the mother until she becomes pregnant again. It spends much of the first part of its life riding on its mother’s back, until it is nearly half her size.
In the wild, the Giant Anteater behaves nocturnally near human settlements and diurnally elsewhere. It stays mainly on dry ground but is a strong and capable swimmer.
When threatened, it stands up on its hind legs, using its tail to aid balance. It may strike extremely rapidly with its claws or “hug” attackers much like a bear. An adult anteater is capable of fending off or even killing its main predators, big cats such as jaguar and puma.