• Slowly moving through the forest, the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) uses its formidable claws to break into anthills or termite mounds it locates with its keen sense of smell. Its sticky tongue is around 61 centimeters long (about 2 feet) and is used to lap up the scrambling ants and termites from their nests. The anteater will only feed at a mound for a short time before moving on. It is not immune to ant bites. The animal does not completely decimate an ant colony but, rather, moves on to find its next meal elsewhere.

    The giant anteater is the largest of all known species of anteater found in the Americas. Its range extends from Central America south to Argentina, although serious declines in recent decades are thought to have erased the distinctive mammal from its northern range in Guatemala and Belize, as well as its southern range in Uruguay.

    Numerous threats endanger populations of giant anteaters, including habitat loss, car strikes, and hunting. They are also vulnerable to fires and there have been documented fatalities from wildfires and areas in Brazil where burning of land is done for farming.

    Although slow, the giant anteater can use its claws to protect itself from predators when necessary, though it prefers to run when threatened rather than fight. It preserves its claws when walking by curling them under and walking on the sides of its feet. When threatened or attacked by a predator, it may rise onto its hind legs and use its extended arms and claws to deliver a blow.

    1. How many young do female anteaters typically give birth to in a year?

      Giant anteaters have a low reproductive rate, giving birth to one offspring per year, and rarely have twins. Their low reproductive rate is a factor in their status as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

    2. How does agricultural and livestock production in Brazil and elsewhere in Central and South America affect giant anteaters?

      In recent decades, the clearing of land for agricultural production and the raising of livestock such as cows has led to habitat degradation and loss of habitat for giant anteaters.

    3. What is a major difference in the social behavior between giant anteaters and the ants and termites that they prey on?

      Giant anteaters are mostly solitary creatures, except when mating and raising young. Termites and ants are species that have a highly complex and defined social structure to their colonies.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    distinct Adjective

    unique or identifiable.

    mammal Noun

    animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.

    preserve Verb

    to maintain and keep safe from damage.

    wildfire Noun

    uncontrolled fire that happens in a rural or sparsely populated area.