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Anteaters Sloths and Armadillos: Xenarthra - Physical Characteristics

feet meters brown fur

The order Xenarthra consists of sloths, anteaters, armadillos, and the extinct glyptodonts. The glyptodont, which became extinct 10,000 years ago, belonged to the armadillo family. It was 10 feet (3 meters) long. Modern-day xenarthrans (ZEN-arth-ranz) range from the pink fairy armadillo, which is 6 inches (15 centimeters) long, to the giant anteater, which is up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) long.

Sloths move slowly and spend most of their lives upside down in trees. They hold onto branches and trunks with their long limbs. Sloths have small heads, slim bodies, and tiny tails. Their hair is long and rough. Fur is mainly gray or brown, with green coloring in the outer hair. The green color is caused by algae (AL-jee), which are tiny water plants. Sloths aren't bothered by algae growing in their fur. They lick the algae when hungry, and the color helps sloths blend in with trees. This camouflage (KAM-uh-flaj) protects sloths from predators, animals that hunt them for food.

Two-toed tree sloths are up to 3 feet (0.9 meters) long and weigh 18 pounds (8 kilograms). There is a claw, approximately 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) long, on each of two digits (toes) of the sloth's front feet. Three-toed tree sloths are about 2 feet
(0.6 meters) long and weigh 11 pounds (5 kilograms). They have three digits with claws on the front feet.

In the anteater family, two species have tiny heads and long snouts. The giant anteater and tamandua (tuh-MAN-duh-wah) use their tube-shaped snouts to dig into ant nests, and lick up ants with their tongues. The giant anteater weighs up to 88 pounds (39 kilograms) and its tongue is 2 feet (0.6 meters) long. The anteater's long, coarse fur is black, white, gray, and brown. Because its claws are long, the anteater walks on the side of its feet.

Tamandua is the scientific and common name of the lesser anteater. Length ranges from 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters), and weight ranges from 8 to 13 pounds (3.5 to 6 kilograms). The northern tamandua is brown with black fur on its back. Southern tamandua fur color ranges from blonde to brown.

Tamandua and the silky anteater have prehensile tails that they use to hold objects or hang onto trees. The silky anteater is up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) long and weighs 17 ounces (480 grams) and up. Its fur is soft, and colors range from gray to yellow. In comparison to its size, the silky anteater's mouth is larger than that of other anteaters.

Armadillos' size ranges from the tiny fairy armadillo to the giant armadillo, which is 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) long and weighs 66 pounds (30 kilograms). Armadillos have long tails, and their bodies are covered by shells, "armor" formed out of bony plates. Hair grows between the plates, and the number of these bands varies by species. Shell color includes brown, white, and yellow. Body color is usually gray or brown. However, the pink fairy armadillo has a pink shell and white body. The armadillo shell covers most of its body.

Anteaters Sloths and Armadillos: Xenarthra - Geographic Range [next]

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