In The Wild
Giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are native to Central and South America. In times past, they had a huge range that stretched from Belize to Uruguay. However, populations of the giant anteater have been declining, with populations disappearing in Central America and the southern part of its range.
Giant anteaters live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, and rain forests. They are typically solitary animals, coming together only to reproduce. The female anteater produces a single offspring after a 190-day gestation period. The baby anteater spends most of its time riding on its mother’s back, until it is almost half her size. Baby giant anteaters become independent from their mothers at about 24 months of age.
Giant anteaters have no teeth. As their name suggests, their diet consists mainly of ants, termites and other insects. The anteater uses its long tongue to probe into the openings of ant and termite colonies, using its sticky saliva to trap insects. Instead of chewing, anteaters crush their food using hard growths on the inside of their mouths.
This species is the largest of the anteaters, with a long snout (up to 45 cm or 18 inches), and a body length from nose to tail measuring up to 185 – 210 cm or about 6 – 8 ft! They have thick, stiff hair that is longer toward the tail. Their coat is brown and black with black and white stripes on the shoulders. The forelegs are white, with black bands at the toes.
Giant anteaters have 5 claws on each foot, with the inner 3 claws of the front feet very long and sharp. It uses these claws for defence, rearing up on its hind legs and using its strong tail for balance as it quickly lashes out with these sharp weapons. Anteaters have been known to kill their main predators, which include big cats like jaguars and cougars!
Giant anteaters face many threats, most from humans and human activity. They are hunted for food and are killed as pests. They are also taken for the pet trade. Habitat loss and destruction is another major threat to this species