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The claws of the giant anteater are perfectly adapted for ripping termite and ant mounds apart. The thin, extendable tongue, which can be up to 61cm in length, then reaches into the centre of the colony to feast on the insects. This long tongue is covered in minute spines (papilliae) and coated in saliva in order to trap the eggs, cocoons and adult ants until they can be transferred into the mouth. The anteater does not have teeth, so it swallows small stones and sands to help it crush and digest food in its strong stomach.
The giant anteater is found from Honduras in Central America, south through South America to Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and the north of Argentina. This species is found in variety of habitats including tropical moist forest, dry forest and savannah. They are mainly active during the day in uninhabited areas but if the area is densely populated, they tend to be more active at night. Although adept at digging, the giant anteater does not dig burrows. Instead it searches out a sheltered place to curl up in, covering its head and body with its bushy tail.
Giant anteaters tend to be solitary creatures except for females and their young. The single young will be born weighing around 1-2kg and will be weaned by 6 weeks. The mother carries the offspring on her back for up to a year, when the offspring is nearly fully grown. The young anteater will remain with its mother until she becomes pregnant again.
Pumas and jaguars are known to predate upon giant anteaters. To defend themselves from predators, anteaters stand on their back legs and tail and use their powerful claws to strike out.
Within Central America, the giant anteater has disappeared from much of its range, so much so that it is considered the most threatened mammal of Central America. The main threats facing this species are from habitat loss, fires in grassland areas and the burning of sugar cane plantations. Giant anteaters are also hunted for food, as pests, for pets or for illegal trade. On the more positive side, giant anteaters are found in many protected areas and there is a reintroduction program being carried out in Corrientes province in Argentina. They are listed on Appendix II of CITES, which means that trade in the animal or any of its parts is restricted.
Size Head-body: 100-120cm; tail length: 65-90cm
Gestation 171-184 days
Life span Up to 25 years
A giant anteater can eat as many as 35,000 ants or termites in one day.
The tongue of the giant anteater can be pushed out and pulled back into the mouth up to 160 times per minute!
Even though giant anteaters are able to climb trees, they rarely do.