Giant Anteater Fast Facts
Meet Diego, our giant anteater here at Wild Discovery! Giant anteaters are the largest of the four anteater species. They are very unique in their looks, with a long, elongated nose, wire-like fur and exaggerated feeding method. They also have a long bushy tail which not only makes them look more intimidating, but also acts as a sunshade and a blanket, perfect for all climates. If threatened, an anteater will stand up on its hind legs and use its sharp claws to defend itself. To protect these special weapons, giant anteaters walk with the claws curled up into the feet, walking on their knuckles. Anteaters are also good swimmers, using their long snout as a snorkel, and powerful claws to swim through the water.
Giant anteater's are specialist hunters of ants and termites. Their sense of smell is 40x greater than that of humans, and can even identify the particular species of ant or termite by smell. They use their 10cm long claws to rip open ant nests to expose their food. Giant anteaters have a 2-foot-long tongue which can flick in and out up to 150 times per minute. It is covered in sticky saliva and backwards facing hooks to catch their prey. The anteater will only feeds at a nest for about a minute before moving on. This not only secures the sustainability of their food source but also protects them from ant bites. After an ant colony is attacked, they have around 40 seconds before the soldier ants rally to protect the nest. The bites from the soldier ants are particular powerful, and would cause injury to the anteater. The 'get in, eat, and get out' fast approach is best adopted in this situation, After all, the animal doesn't want to totally wipe out its source of food!
Giant anteaters are sexual mature at 3-4 years of age. They are a solitary species but come together to breed. Females are pregnant for around 180 days (six months). They give birth to only one offspring, which will climb onto the mother's back and stay there for up to a year. The markings on the young match up to the mother's, allowing it to camouflage into the mother's fur. It also makes the mother look larger and more intimidating to predators. Giant anteaters do not typically vocalise, but the pup will let out a shrill, high-pitched grunt to alert their mother when in distress. Young remain with their mother's until they are 2 years old, and become independent.
Threats + Conservation
Giant anteaters are classified as VULNERABLE on the IUCN Red List. It is estimated that only 5,000 giant anteaters are left in the wild with most disappeared from much of their known habitat. Giant anteater populations have decreased by 30% in the last 10 years, this is due to habitat loss, fires in grassland regions, and hunting, both for food and as pests. Road traffic collisions and attacks by feral dogs are also a key factor in their decline. Human disturbances are known to shape the giant anteater's lifestyle. Anteaters living in areas more densely populated with humans are more likely to be nocturnal; in less populated areas, anteaters are diurnal. In some cultures anteaters are surrounded by superstition. Because of their elusive behaviour and unusual looks, myths have circulated around this species, alongside a superstition that you will have bad luck if a giant anteater crosses your path. Giant anteaters are seen as a bad omen and are openly prosecuted by the local people. To remove this bad omen, anteaters are purposely targeted by cars and hunted. Collections are working to alleviate these superstitions to ensure the protection of this unique species.
1. Giant anteaters have no teeth. They rely on ingested pebbles in their stomach to grind their food, or crush their food to the roof of their mouth with their tongue. 2. Giant anteaters can eat up to 35,000 ants in a single day. 3. Giant anteaters have one of the lowest mammalian body temperatures, at 32.7 degrees Celsius. This is believed to be caused by their low-calorie insect diet.