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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Species Fact Profile: Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)

Giant Anteater
Myrmecophaga tridactyla (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range: Southern Mexico through Northwestern Argentina
Habitat: Grasslands, Woodlands, Rainforests
Diet: Ants, Termites
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction: Single offspring born after 190 day gestation, young are weaned at 2 months but carried by the mother until they are 9 months old, with independence reached at 2 years and sexual maturity reached as 2.5-4 years
Lifespan: 15-25 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable, CITES Appendix II

  • Largest of the living anteaters, adults measure 2 meters from snout to tail (nearly half of body length is the tail) and weigh 50-55 kilograms; males are slightly smaller than females, but otherwise look identical
  • Fur is grey-brown with black and white stripes on the shoulder and a crest of hair down the middle of the back.
  • The most notable feature is the snout, which is a bone tube formed by the fusion of the toothless upper and lower jaws; this houses the long (50 centimeter), sticky tongue, covered with spiny protrusions used to capture insect prey
  • The inner three claws of the front feet are very long and sharp, used to break open termite mounds, as well as for protection.  To protect the claws when not in use, anteaters walk on their wrists, with the claws curled out of the way.  Despite having five claws on each foot, the Latin name translates to "Three-Toed Termite Eater"
  • An anteater may consumer up to 30,000 insects per day; ants and termites are not nutritious, and as a result anteaters move slow, sleep 16 hours a day (often with the tail covering the anteater like a blanket), and have the lowest body temperature of any terrestrial mammal
  • Cannot produce stomach acid of their own, but use the formic acid of their prey to assist in digestion
  • Vision is very poor, as is hearing; and prey is found primarily through scent
  • Unlike other anteaters, they do not climb; they are, however, good swimmers
  • Anteaters will defend themselves from predators (such as jaguar and puma) by standing up and slashing with their claws; there are reports of both hunters and zookeepers being mauled (sometimes fatally) by anteaters
  • Sometimes hunted by humans, but are more threatened by car crashes, as well as loss of habitat
  • Serve as a trickster figure and foil to jaguar in certain Amazonian cultures

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