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Animal Data > Anteater (Giant)

(Myrmecophaga tridactyla)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Near Threatened Central and South America from Berlize to Northern Argentina 2.5 - 4 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
1 190 days 25 years

Giant anteaters can be found in savannas, grasslands, swampy areas and humid forests. They have powerful claws on their front feet which they use for ripping open ant hills or termite mounds. The tongue is covered in small spines and coated with thick, sticky saliva. It can be 61cm long but is no wider than 1 – 1.5 cm. They can move their tongue up to 150 times per minute!

A giant anteater mainly uses its very good sense of smell to detect its prey and may consume as many as 35,000 ants in one day. The anteater tends to take a few thousand ants from several different ant hills. This leaves enough surviving ants to repair the damage to the ant hill and to the colony, ready for the anteater's return. The giant anteater will eat eggs and cocoons as well as the adult ants. They also eat termites, beetle larvae and occasionally fruit. The anteaters' stomach does not produce hydrochloric acid but uses the formic acid of the ants to assist digestion.

Like all anteaters, the giant anteater is capable of climbing trees but very rarely does. They are good swimmers. When walking they move with the their sharp claws tucked up to protect them. Giant anteaters are powerful diggers but do not construct burrows, preferring to scoop out shallow depressions in which to rest. They will rest for up to 15 hours per day, sleeping curled up with their body covered with the tail. Giant anteaters are usually solitary except for females with young. The young are born with sharp claws allowing them to crawl onto the mother's back, where they will be carried for up to a year. They will suckle for about 6 months but may stay with the mother for up to 2 years.

The giant anteaters' natural predators are pumas and jaguars. When threatened the anteaters will rear up onto their hind legs and slash with their claws. Giant anteater numbers are decreasing in Central America due to habitat destruction and expansion of human population and in South America due to hunting.

Main Features

Largest of the anteaters.

In Captivity

Marwell's first anteater arrived in 2005. As in the wild these animals spend much of their time resting. He is given a varied diet mixture of dog food (biscuits), cottage cheese, milk powder, peat, minced meat, honey, oats and banana vitamin tablet. This is all put in a blender to make a thick mix and 2 egg yolks are added on top. He is also given a wellington boot with avocado inside as a treat. The enclosure contains rotten logs so he can use his powerful claws to rip them apart as he would do in the wild with termite mounds.

©2009 Marwell Wildlife