Anteater: Profile and Information


Anteater is a popular name for the four existing mammal species of the suborder Vermilingua (meaning ‘worm tongue’)generally known for consuming ants and termites.

They are within the Pilosa order, along with the sloths. The unrelated aardvark, pangolins, numbat, echidnas, and some members of the Oecobiidae are also colloquially applied to the word “anteater.”

Scientific classification

SuborderVermilingua Illiger, 181


The anteaters are more closely linked to the sloths than to any other mammal group. Their best relationship is with the Armadillos. Four extant species exist in three genera, which include:

  • The giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), which is about 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) long, including the tail
  • The silk anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), which is about 35 cm (14 in) long
  • The Southern tamandua, also called collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), is about 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) long and  Northern tamandua (Tamandua Mexicana) with similar dimensions


Anteaters are one of three remaining families, the other two being the sloths and the armadillos, of a once diverse group of mammals that inhabited South America when it was geographically separated from an invasion North American animals.

At one time, anteaters were thought to be related to aardvarks and pangolins because of their physical resemblance to those species. However, these resemblances have since been determined not to be an indication of a shared ancestor but of convergent evolution.

The explanation of why aardvarks are often generally referred to as “anteaters” is as a result of this similarity that includes muscular digging forearms, long tongues, and toothless, tube-like snouts, used for raiding termite mounds.

The pangolin has been labelled the “scaly anteater,” and the word “antbear” is a common expression for both the aardvark and the giant anteater.

Physical characteristics

All anteaters have elongated snouts fitted with a slender tongue that can be stretched to a length greater than the size of its head; they have lips but no teeth in their tube-shaped mouths.

They use their tall and curved foreclaws to break open ant and termite mounds, while their thick and long fur serves as protection against insect attacks.

All species have a long prehensile tail, except the giant anteater.


Anteaters are typically solitary mammals prepared to protect their territories. They generally do not invade the territory of other same-sex anteaters, but males frequently enter the territory of female anteaters.

They vocalize, swat, and may sit on or even ride their opponents’ backs when a territorial conflict arises.

Anteaters have poor vision but an excellent sense of smell, and they rely on the latter for foraging, eating, and defence. It is assumed that their hearing is fine.

Just like other xenarthrans, anteaters have one of the lowest body temperatures of any mammal, with a body temperature ranging from 91 to 97 ° F (33 to 36 ° C). They can tolerate higher body temperature fluctuations than most mammals.

Its daily consumption of food energy is just marginally higher than its daily activity energy requirement. Anteaters are likely to coordinate their body temperatures to remain cool during rest periods and heat up during foraging.


Adult males are slightly taller and more muscular, having broader heads as well as necks than females.

Nevertheless, noticeable sex determination can be difficult since the penis and testes can be found internally between the rectum and urinary bladder in males. Females possess a single pair of mammae close to the armpits.

Fertilization happens without intromission, similar to some lizards, through touch transfer. In general, polygynous mating leads to a single offspring; twins are possible but rare.

The broad foreclaws hinder mothers from recognizing their newborns, so they have to carry their offspring until they are self-sufficient.


Anteaters are specialized in feeding on small insects, with each anteater species having its insect preferences.

Small species are interested in arboreal insects that live on small branches, whereas large species can penetrate the hardcover of terrestrial insect nests.

Anteaters have developed the feeding technique of licking up large numbers of ants and termites as quickly as possible to avoid the jaws, sting, and other defences of the invertebrates.

An anteater usually spends about a minute at a nest before moving on to another, and a giant anteater has to visit up to 200 nests each day to consume the thousands of insects in order to fulfil its caloric requirement.

The tongue of the anteater is covered with thousands of small hooks called filiform papillae, which are used with massive quantities of saliva to keep the insects together. The jaws’ side-to-side motions support swallowing and tongue movement.

The tongue is connected to the sternum and travels very rapidly, flicking 150 times per minute. The stomach of an anteater has hardened folds and uses powerful contractions to grind the insects, a digestive process assisted by small amounts of sand and dirt consumed.

Distribution and habitat

Silky anteaters and northern tamanduas broaden their distributions as far north as southeastern Mexico, while giant anteaters can be located as far north as Central America.

Southern tamanduas extend south to Uruguay (giant anteaters did so before their recent expiration). In eastern Brazil, the distribution of all species except the northern tamandua overlap.

During the Cenozoic Period, anteaters were restricted to South America, which was once an island continent. Nevertheless, when the Isthmus of Panama was formed about three million years ago, as part of the Great American Interchange, anteaters extended their reach into Central America.

The habitats of anteaters include tropical dry forests, rainforests, grasslands, and savannahs. The silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) is skilled in an arboreal climate.

Still, the more opportunistic tamanduas obtain their food both on the ground, as well as in trees, usually near streams and lakes in dry forests. The almost completely land-based giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) lives in savannas.

The two anteaters of the genus tamandua, including the southern (Tamandua tetradactyla) and the northern tamanduas (Tamandua Mexicana), are much smaller than the giant anteater, being primarily arboreal and differing fundamentally in their habit.

They occupy South and Central America’s thick primaeval forests. The standard colour is yellowish-white, covering almost the entire side of the body, with a broad black lateral band.

The silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) is native to the hottest regions of South and Central America. It is usually yellowish in colour and solely arboreal in habit, about the size of a cat.

Predators and threats

Giant anteaters are currently documented as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since they are the most endangered mammals in Central America and are extinct in Guatemala, El Salvador and Uruguay.

As sugar cane growers frequently burn their fields, the loss of their grassland habitats is a major concern, directly affecting the habitats of anteaters.

Some people hunt them for food, while others merely kill them because they consider anteaters to be pests. Most are killed by road traffic in the Brazilian Cerrado Biome, and their natural predators are cougars and jaguars.

More than ten orphaned anteaters have been saved by the Iberá Project and reintroduced to the wild in Argentina. In the Cerrado Biome, conservationists gather data to assess how roadways affect these species in the expectation that new protections can be enforced.

Tamanduas from the North are not considered threatened. However, Jaguars, large snakes, and eagles are among their natural predators. Harpy eagles, spectacled owls, and eagle-hawks prey on silky anteaters, and the conservation status of tamanduas, as well as silky anteaters, is reported as the least concern.

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