Photo: Giant anteater searches for a meal

Giant anteaters lap up thousands of ants and termites every day with their long tongues, but never destroy the insects' hills or mounds.

Photograph by Nicole Duplaix

Map

Map: Giant anteater range

Giant Anteater Range

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Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
14 years
Size:
Head and body, 6 to 49 in (15 to 124 cm); tail, 7 to 35 in (18 to 89 cm)
Weight:
40 to 140 lbs (18 to 64 kg)
Protection status:
Threatened
Did you know?
The tongue on a giant anteater can protrude more than 2 feet (60 cm) to capture prey.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Giant anteater compared with adult man

Anteaters are edentate animals—they have no teeth. But their long tongues are more than sufficient to lap up the 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day.

The anteater uses its sharp claws to tear an opening into an anthill and put its long snout and efficient tongue to work. But it has to eat quickly, flicking its tongue up to 160 times per minute. Ants fight back with painful stings, so an anteater may spend only a minute feasting on each mound. Anteaters never destroy a nest, preferring to return and feed again in the future.

These animals find their quarry not by sight—theirs is poor—but by smell.

Anteaters are found in Central and South America, where they prefer tropical forests and grasslands. There are four different species which vary greatly in size. The silky anteater is the size of a squirrel, while the giant anteater can reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) long from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail. Some anteaters, the tamandua and the silky anteater, ply their trade in the trees. They travel from branch to branch in search of tasty insects.

Anteaters are generally solitary animals. Females have a single offspring once a year, which can sometimes be seen riding on its mother's back.

Anteaters are not aggressive but they can be fierce. A cornered anteater will rear up on its hind legs, using its tail for balance, and lash out with dangerous claws. The giant anteater's claws are some four inches (ten centimeters) long, and the animal can fight off even a puma or jaguar.

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