A very long muzzle and a threadlike tongue make the anteater a specialist in catching ants, his favorite menu. Meet one of the oldest mammals on the planet.
Identity card of the anteater
The anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) belongs to the order of piloses and to the family of myrmecophagidae. Also called big anteater or giant anteater, the animal has evolved for millions of years in the tropical forests of South America. Along with armadillos and sloths, it forms the superorder of xenarthra, a group of toothless placental mammals with plantigrade limbs with strong claws. The anteater can be 2 meters long and weigh up to 50 kg.
Description of the anteater
The anteater has a thick coat rough brownish in color that protects it from bites insects. Two black and white side stripes mark the neck and shoulders. His thick mane follows his back to a very bushy tail as long as his body. Its paws are white at the front and gray at the back. Its plantigrade limbs are provided with five claws of which the three in the middle are more developed and curved because they are adapted to the digging. Its head is characterized by rudimentary ears and small eyes. Its large muzzle is a bone tube can measure up to 60 cm. Devoid of teeth, it has a very thin tongue measuring on average 50 cm.
Distribution and habitat of the anteater
The anteater is found throughout Central and South America. The limits of its area of division depart from the Yucatán peninsula (Mexico) descend to Uruguay, reach the north of Argentina and end up in the east of Andes Cordillera. In these regions, it frequents marshes, humid and dry tropical forests, thorny scrub as well as grasslands and savannas. The anteater forages in areas open and prefers more wooded areas to rest.
The anteater feeds mainly on ants, termites and soft-bodied invertebrates. It uses the claws of its forelegs to dig the ground or search tree trunks. Then he thrusts his narrow muzzle into the opening and plunges his long tongue covered with a sticky saliva to quickly catch hundreds of insects. It may occasionally ingest berries and fruits ripe. The large anteater rarely quenches its thirst because it finds most of the water it needs in ants. It sometimes happens to lick the leaves covered with dew or raindrops, as well as drinking at water points.
When it is not foraging for food, the anteater sleeps until 16 hours per day in a hole he has dug in the ground or in a thicket of dense vegetation. So he curls up and uses his cock both as a blanket and camouflage. Namely that the animal has a body temperature that is among the lowest of all mammals (32 °). The giant anteater is not known for its good eyesight or its keen hearing but its smell is extremely developed. Most show themselves rather lonely, the rare reconciliations between mother and calf and during mating.
Reproduction of the anteater
Large anteaters reach their sexual maturity between 2 and 4 years old and can reproduce throughout the year. At the end of a gestation period which lasts about 190 days, the female gives birth to a only baby weighing 1 to 2 kg and whose closed eyes begin to open after 6 days. As soon as it is born, the little one climbs on the back from its mother and only descends to suckle. After 3 months, he begins to eat solid foods and is completely weaned at 10 months. The young, however, remains dependent on the adult for almost 2 years, or sooner if his mother is preparing for a new gestation.
Threats on the anteater
The anteater knows few predators except a few big cats, like the puma or the jaguar, which attack young people more because more vulnerable. Its enemies remain cautious because, provided with long curved claws, the adult anteater can seriously injure its assailant. The species has faded away many parts of its former range (Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Uruguay…). The poaching for its fur, its meat or as a trophy are among the causes of its decline. The most serious threat to the mammal, however, remains the deforestation intensive which affects the countries where he lives. Its longevity is 15 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.