All About Anteaters

Anteaters are among the most fascinating creatures to grace the animal kingdom. Here we will cover many of their unique attributes and what makes one species of anteater different from another.

The Anteater

One important thing to know about anteaters is that they come in different sizes and feature a great deal of variability. The designation of anteater belongs to a mammal of appropriate size that eats insects as its primary source of sustenance.

What you should know

The anteater is a unique animal and is widely known of course, for eating ants. As carnivorous mammals have claws like knives. These are so long, they have to walk on their knuckles so they don’t injure themselves with their own claws.

These curious creatures are primarily found in Asia, South America, Africa, and certain regions of Australia.

There are four distinct species of anteaters including:

  • The Silky Anteater
  • The Southern Tamandua
  • The Northern Tamandua
  • The Giant Anteater

The impressive variety in anteater species offers plenty to study. Each species has unique qualities that deserve a closer look. Here’s what you should know about each of the four types of anteaters.

Silky Anteaters

Silky Anteaters are quite small, usually measuring around only about a single foot in length. You can find Silky Anteaters in both Central and South America in the mid-range tree line where they spend most of their lives.  

It is not untypical for a Silky Anteater to eat 8,000 ants in a single day. They can eat anywhere from 100-8,000 daily although they will also consume other insects like termites and beetles to a lesser extent.  

Northern and Southern Tamanduas

Larger than Silky anteaters, both the Northern and Southern Tamanduas grow to lengths of approx. 4 feet on average. These animals are occasionally referred to as, Collared Anteaters.  

Giant Anteaters

Giant anteaters can reach lengths of 7 feet from end to end. These behemoths hail from the savannahs of South America like the Brazilian Highlands. In contrast to their smaller cousins, the Silky Anteaters, this species can easily eat 30,000 ants in a day.  

Keep in mind that Giant Anteaters can be quite deadly and should be avoided. Although they lack teeth, have poor hearing, and eyesight, Giant Anteaters can deal some serious damage by mauling with their forelimbs. They can even take on a jaguar with relative success and are not easily bested by them.

Fortunately, these animals generally avoid human contact. Should you encounter one, it will serve you well to know that giant Anteaters stand up when they feel threatened. 

What sound do they make?

When upset, Anteaters can make a sort of high-pitched growling noise. They will also hiss, but generally, don’t make much noise unless they are aggravated.

Group characteristics

While the smaller anteaters prefer living in trees, meandering from limb to limb. All anteaters tend to live close to their food sources of anthills and grounds rich in termites.

An anteater usually has one baby at a time, however it is possible for them to produce twins.

How many are there?

There are approximately 5,000 Giant Anteaters on the planet. Some countries that used to feature anteaters have seen them disappear entirely. Belize, Uruguay, Guatemala, and El Salvador have largely lost their anteater populations.  

Watch a video

Anteaters, especially Giant Anteaters are a joy to watch in action. Here’s a great video from BBC showing the Giant Anteater devouring termites.

These creatures are best watched from a distance as they can be hostile when provoked.

Pop culture

Many people have mistaken the popular cartoon figure Arthur as an anteater. While not far off, Arthur is, in fact, an aardvark, which while similar, is different than an anteater.

The two species share a common and noticeable trait, severely protruded snouts containing long tongues which are designed to collect and eat insects. An aardvark’s tongue can be up to 12 inches in length while an anteater’s tongue may be in excess of two feet.

Interesting facts

Anteaters generally live between 2 and 14 years. Giant Anteaters in captivity have been found to achieve a longer lifespan of around 26 years

An anteater’s tongue is rolled up to the creature’s cranium and is attached via the sternum. When fully extended, its tongue can be longer than the length of its entire head.

Another curious characteristic of anteaters is that they deliberately eat gravel and small pebbles to line their gizzards.