Giant Anteater

Giant Anteater



COMMON NAME: giant anteater
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Xenarthra
FAMILY: Myrmecophagidae
GENUS SPECIES: Myrmecophaga (to eat ants) tridactyla (three toe/finger)


DESCRIPTION: Tapered head with a long, tubular mouth opening. They have poor vision, but excellent hearing and sense of smell. Their body is long and slender. Their coat is a coarse, dense fur with a gray coloring and a broad, diagonal black stripe edged in white running from neck and chest toward the mid-dorsal.
SIZE: head & body length: 100-120 cm (3.3-3.9 ft.)
tail length: 65-90 cm (2.1-3.0 ft.)
MALE Males may exceed 45.5 kg (100 lbs.), but are usually 20-40.9 kg (44-90 lb.)
FEMALE females 20% smaller
DIET: Insects such as termites, ants, beetles, insect larvae; occasionally fruit. The giant anteater fulfills it's need for water by licking wet vegetation.
GESTATION: 180-190 days; one offspring per birth
NURSING DURATION Approximately 6 months
LIFE SPAN: Unknown in the wild; up to 26 years in captivity
RANGE: Southern Mexico, through Central America, and South America east of the Andes through Uruguay and northern Argentina
HABITAT: Grasslands, savannas, and open tropical forests
STATUS: IUCN Vulnerable
CITES Appendix II
USFWS Not listed


1. Giant anteaters prey almost exclusively on social insects (i.e. ants and termites). Such dietary focus significantly shapes the physical form and behavior of the species.
2. Giant anteaters do not have teeth; instead, they have tongues can reach as much as 610 mm (2 ft.) in length! As long as the tongue is, it is relatively narrow over the entirety of its length, with its widest point being only 10-15 mm (0.4-0.6 in.). They use this giant tongue to gather insects for food, extending it up to 150 times per minute.
3. Their tongues are covered with tiny spines which point toward the back of the throat. Additionally, their tongue is coated with a thick, sticky coat of saliva (which is secreted from relatively enlarged salivary glands). Prior to swallowing, the insect-coated tongue is firmly pressed against the anteater's hard upper palate - crushing their meal and easing ingestion.
4. The stomaches of anteaters do not secrete hydrochloric acid. Instead, they depend on the formic acid content of their ant-dominated diet to aid in digestion.
5. They can eat up to 30,000 insects a day.
6. Despite their coarse fur and thickened skin (particularly about the muzzle), giant anteaters may still be agitated by the large-jawed soldier castes of the ant and termite species upon which they feed. Accordingly, they avoid soldiers both actively and tactically. The anteater's typical feeding profile could be described as a lightening strike - quick feeding action over a short period. Such a clipped feeding incursion generally outpaces a given insect colony's ability to rapidly mount a defence; thus tactically avoiding the aggrevation of soldier castes.
7. Giant anteaters tend to pursue the larger bodied social insects, while tamanduas and silky anteaters tend to prey on smaller insect fare. Such dietary segmentation allows for different anteater species to co-exist in the same region without being in direct predatory competition.
8. Giant anteaters are terrestrial. Unlike other anteater species, adult giant anteaters only rarely climb trees. Instead, its powerful forearms and prominent claws are used primarily for digging and ripping in the search for food.
9. While the giant anteater has five digits on each foot, their first digit is reduced and the second and third digits exhibit the long claws.
10. Anteaters are able to detect insects with their powerful sense of smell, 40 times that of man.
11. If threatened, the typically non-vocal giant anteater may make a bellowing noise. Additionally, they will often rear up on their hind quarters and swipe with their (up to) 10 cm (4 in.) long foreclaws.
12. Anteaters do not walk on the soles of their forefeet. Rather, they flex the digits upward and turn the forefeet inward, such that the large foreclaws do not come in contact with the ground.
13. Anteaters sleep as much as 15 hours each day.
14. As an outcome of their diet and lifestyle, anteaters have relatively low metabolic rates. As a stark example, the giant anteater has the lowest recorded body temperature of any placental mammal - 32.7° C (90.9°F).
15. When observed in regions without a significant human presence, giant eaters are diurnally active. However, giant anteaters appear to adopt a nocturnal lifestyle when living in more disturbed areas subject to human activity.
16. Giant anteaters - save for mother/young pairs - are generally solitary.
17. Usually only one baby is born at a time. It nurses for six months and is carried on the mother's back for up to a year.


The giant anteaters are becoming quite rare due to the exotic pet trade and habitat destruction. They have all but disappeared from their historic range within Central America. In South America, they are hunted for their meat and for trophies. Some are also killed because they are mistakenly blamed in the killing of cattle and dogs. Anteaters are essential in maintaining insect populations. In addition, they are food for other larger carnivores.


Grzimek, H.C. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. 1990.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press. 5(1):522-3.

Macdonald, David. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Andromeda Oxford Limited. 2001.

First Day Cover Store. March, 1997. Dec. 8, 2000

Philadelphia Zoo. Dec. 8, 2000

Santa Barbara Zoo. Dec. 8, 2000 Dec. 8, 2000 Dec. 8, 2000 Dec. 8, 2000 Dec. 8, 2000