The Giant Anteater – the nosy trickster

Natural habitat:

Tropical forests, grasslands, and savannas.

Conservation status:

Highly vulnerable

When it comes to the animal kingdom of South America, you have to be prepared for everything, including the giant anteater. A humorous and trickster figure in the mythology and folklore of the indigenous people of the Amazon, the giant anteater has been around for ages, but remains unknown to many.

The giant anteater dates back more than 25 million years. They have been witness to the great events in South American natural history. From the formation of the Isthmus of Panama to the Great American Interchange, these rather slow and solitary animals are now unfortunately considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be highly vulnerable to threats posed by humans.

The giant anteater’s claws may be as long as 10 centimeters. These talons allow them to fight off pumas, jaguars, and other natural predators. The claws also help them tear anthills apart. They are not aggressive animals in general, but they can be quite fierce when defending themselves or with other males.

Two of their most fascinating characteristics are their distinct snouts and their lack of teeth. Their long, slim, and efficient tongue can be extended up to 60 cm. This is helpful because anteaters need to consume over 30,000 ants and termites every day. Giant anteaters are also known for their large size (182cm to 217cm & 33kg to 50kg in adult males) and long bushy tails.

Active during the day, giant anteaters usually hunt within a 25 km range that can vary from grasslands to rainforests in both Central and South America.

A pup doesn’t open its eyes until six days after birth. Mothers carry pups on their backs after aligning their fur colors for camouflage.

As mentioned before, giant anteaters are listed as vulnerable. This status is due to forest fires, habitat loss, poaching for meat and fur, and car accidents. They are already locally extinct in many of their former habitats.

With only an estimated 5,000 giant anteaters left in the wild, many zoos are making efforts to protect the species from possible extinction. A visit to the Nashville Zoo will give you the chance to meet and greet these fascinating animals while supporting their preservation.

Did you know?

  • These anteaters compensate for their poor vision with a sense of smell 40 times stronger than humans. They can detect ants or termites several kilometers away.

  • The Giant Eater can flick its tongue up to 160 times per minute.

  • The Kayapo people wear masks of various animals and spirits, including the anteater, during naming and initiation ceremonies.

  • Anteaters protect trees and forests by controlling ant and termite populations.

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