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Anteaters: Myrmecophagidae - Giant Anteater (myrmecophaga Tridactyla): Species Accounts

feet people inches centimeters

Physical characteristics: Giant anteaters range in length from 5 feet, 7 inches to 9.1 feet (174 to 280 centimeters). That length includes tails, which are from 25 to 35 inches (64 to 90 centimeters) long. Tail fur is about 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) long.

The anteater's long fur is gray with bands of black and white. The animals have tiny heads, and small eyes and ears. Although their vision is poor, their sense of smell is forty times stronger than that of humans. Giant anteaters have long tube-shaped snouts that they use Giant anteaters' worm-like tongues are up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) long. They use them to reach into underground ant nests. (Illustration by Joseph E. Trumpey. Reproduced by permission.) to reach into underground ant nests. Their tongues look like worms and can extend 2 feet (0.6 meters) into nests.

Anteaters' claws are 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) long. Although useful for digging for food, the claws are so long that anteaters have to walk on the side of their feet.

Geographic range: Giant anteaters live in Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Habitat: The giant anteater lives on the ground in nearly treeless grasslands and in forests. They also range in wetland swamps.

Diet: Giant anteaters eat ants and termites. They lick wet plants to get water.

Behavior and reproduction: Giant anteaters are usually active during the day. However, they become nocturnal when people are around. They do not climb trees, but are talented swimmers.

Anteaters are solitary unless breeding or raising young. After mating, the male leaves and the female gives birth after 190 days to one cub. Very rarely, twins are born. The cub rides on the mother's back for up to nine months.

Anteaters use their claws to fight predators like jaguars.

Giant anteaters and people: People hunt giant anteaters and kill them for their meat and skin. Giant anteaters may be trapped to keep as pets.

Conservation status: Giant anteaters are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Threats to their survival include loss of habitat as land is developed, in addition, to being hunted and killed by people. ∎



Attenborough, David. The Life of Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Dollar, Sam. Anteaters. New York: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 2001.

Web sites:

Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/index.html (accessed on June 21, 2004).

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