Habitat – forests and grasslands
Niche – large insectivore
Favorite Food – ants and termites
Length – between 5 and 10 feet nose to tail tip
Weight – up to 85 pounds
Status – Vulnerable to Extinction
Threats – habitat loss and hunting
The giant anteater is one of Earth’s weirdest looking mammals. Sporting a long, tubular snout and a tail that looks whisked from an ostrich, this resident of South America shuffles throughout the rainforests and plains searching for what concerns him. And what concerns the giant anteater is ants.
The giant anteater’s amazing 2-foot-long tongue is covered with tiny, backward-facing spines that are slathered in sticky saliva when the animal feeds. After it’s broken into the nest with its muscular forearms and wicked claws, the anteater will then start snaking its tongue in and out, lapping up any ant it touches.
Miraculously, the giant anteater obtains most of its water from the ants it consumes. Since it depends on ants for not just its food but also its water, it has has devised a way to ensure it always something to eat in its territory. It only feeds for about a minute at each of the nests it visits. Although it can flick its tongue in and out 150 times in that minute, the anteater only consumes about 1% of the ants it needs daily from a single nest. However, because it exercises restraint, the surviving ants have a chance to rebuild the nest and rear more ants. Thus, because the giant anteater is careful not to over-exploit precious resources, its ensured food for life.
Not only does it have a pretty sweet life on the eating end, but the giant anteater has few enemies to fear other than man. Although big cats like puma and jaguar will attack this german-shepard-sized tank of an animal, they will meet with stiff resistance. It looks like Snuffy from Sesame Street, but the giant anteater can easily overpower even the stoutest foe. Punching out with its long front claws, it can deliver devastating wounds to attackers. And if its able to hug the predator with a firm grip, then you can imagine what happens to flesh and bones under claws and muscle designed to rip open trees. But these normally gentle giants prefer to avoid confrontation. Their extremely keen senses of smell and hearing help them to detect both food and danger as they walk awkwardly on their knuckles to prevent damage to their essential front claws.
Giant anteaters are one of the most successful mammals on the South American continent, but they will only continue to thrive if man allows it. They are hunted for their furs and have been driven from much of their former range due to habitat destruction in the process of industrial development. They are now vulnerable to extinction.