Anteaters (of the Myrmecophaga genus) have no teeth, but they use their tongues to gulp up about 35,000 ants and termites each day. With its sharp claws, an anteater can quickly open up an anthill enough to allow its tongue to eat quickly, flicking in and out of a hill at a rate of 160 times per minute. However, that’s about as long as the anteater will stay at one anthill. They don’t want to stay too long because they want to be able to come back to it later.
There are four different species of anteaters, all of which vary in size. Most of them are found in Central and South America. The giant anteater is the largest — about the size of a golden retriever — and has a unique long snout. It can live up to 15 years in the wild, and up to 26 years in zoos. They are solitary mammals, but will come together to mate and produce offspring. Only one pup can be produced each year and will be riding on its mother’s back until it is about two years old.
Anteaters are insectivores and actually move quite slow, but they can protect themselves against predators by standing on their hind legs and using their claws. They’ve been known to even fight off pumas or jaguars.
Anteaters have been around for 25 million years, and while they’re not extinct yet, they continue to disappear due to habitat loss. There are about 5,000 giant anteaters left in the wild, while about 100 live in zoos. Hopefully, their successful basic instincts will continue to help them live another 25 million.
Fun Anteater Facts
- The tongue of a giant anteater can extend more than 2 feet to collect food. It has the longest tongue in relations to its size of any mammal.
- The giant anteater uses its tail to help it balance on its two hind legs.
- Their sense of smell is 40 times more powerful than that of a human.
San Diego Zoo
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