Anteater
Overview
 
Anteaters, also known as antbear, are the four mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

 species of the suborder Vermilingua (meaning "worm tongue") commonly known for eating ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

s and termite
Termite
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera , but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae, of the cockroach order Blattodea...

s. Together with the sloth
Sloth
Sloths are the six species of medium-sized mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae , part of the order Pilosa and therefore related to armadillos and anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws.They are arboreal residents of the jungles of Central and South...

s, they compose the order Pilosa
Pilosa
The order Pilosa is a group of placental mammals, extant today only in the Americas. It includes the anteaters and sloths, including the recently extinct ground sloths....

. The name "anteater" is also colloquially applied to the unrelated aardvark
Aardvark
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa...

, numbat
Numbat
The numbat , also known as the banded anteater, or walpurti, is a marsupial found in Western Australia. Its diet consists almost exclusively of termites. Once widespread across southern Australia, the range is now restricted to several small colonies and it is listed as an endangered species...

, echidna
Echidna
Echidnas , also known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. There are four extant species, which, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of that order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs...

, and pangolin
Pangolin
A pangolin , also scaly anteater or Trenggiling, is a mammal of the order Pholidota. There is only one extant family and one genus of pangolins, comprising eight species. There are also a number of extinct taxa. Pangolins have large keratin scales covering their skin and are the only mammals with...

.

Extant species comprise the Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

 Myrmecophaga tridactyla, about 1.8 m (5.9 ft) long including the tail; the Silky Anteater
Silky Anteater
The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

 Cyclopes didactylus, about 35 cm (13.8 in) long; the Southern Tamandua
Southern Tamandua
The southern tamandua, also called a collared anteater, or lesser anteater , is a species of anteater from South America. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats from mature to highly disturbed secondary forests and arid savannas. It feeds on ants, termites and bees...

 or Collared Anteater Tamandua tetradactyla, about 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long; and the Northern Tamandua
Northern Tamandua
The northern tamandua is a species of tamandua, a small anteater in the family Myrmecophagidae. They live in tropical and subtropical forests from southern Mexico, through Central America, and to the edge of the northern Andes....

 Tamandua mexicana of similar dimensions.
The largest extant representative of the group is the Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

, or ant-bear (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), an animal measuring up to 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) in length, excluding the tail, and up to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) in height at the shoulder.
Encyclopedia
Anteaters, also known as antbear, are the four mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

 species of the suborder Vermilingua (meaning "worm tongue") commonly known for eating ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

s and termite
Termite
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera , but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae, of the cockroach order Blattodea...

s. Together with the sloth
Sloth
Sloths are the six species of medium-sized mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae , part of the order Pilosa and therefore related to armadillos and anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws.They are arboreal residents of the jungles of Central and South...

s, they compose the order Pilosa
Pilosa
The order Pilosa is a group of placental mammals, extant today only in the Americas. It includes the anteaters and sloths, including the recently extinct ground sloths....

. The name "anteater" is also colloquially applied to the unrelated aardvark
Aardvark
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa...

, numbat
Numbat
The numbat , also known as the banded anteater, or walpurti, is a marsupial found in Western Australia. Its diet consists almost exclusively of termites. Once widespread across southern Australia, the range is now restricted to several small colonies and it is listed as an endangered species...

, echidna
Echidna
Echidnas , also known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. There are four extant species, which, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of that order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs...

, and pangolin
Pangolin
A pangolin , also scaly anteater or Trenggiling, is a mammal of the order Pholidota. There is only one extant family and one genus of pangolins, comprising eight species. There are also a number of extinct taxa. Pangolins have large keratin scales covering their skin and are the only mammals with...

.

Extant species comprise the Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

 Myrmecophaga tridactyla, about 1.8 m (5.9 ft) long including the tail; the Silky Anteater
Silky Anteater
The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

 Cyclopes didactylus, about 35 cm (13.8 in) long; the Southern Tamandua
Southern Tamandua
The southern tamandua, also called a collared anteater, or lesser anteater , is a species of anteater from South America. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats from mature to highly disturbed secondary forests and arid savannas. It feeds on ants, termites and bees...

 or Collared Anteater Tamandua tetradactyla, about 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long; and the Northern Tamandua
Northern Tamandua
The northern tamandua is a species of tamandua, a small anteater in the family Myrmecophagidae. They live in tropical and subtropical forests from southern Mexico, through Central America, and to the edge of the northern Andes....

 Tamandua mexicana of similar dimensions.

Physiology

The largest extant representative of the group is the Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

, or ant-bear (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), an animal measuring up to 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) in length, excluding the tail, and up to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) in height at the shoulder. It has a long, thin head and a large, bushy tail. Its prevailing color is gray, with a broad black band, bordered with white, starting on the chest, and passing obliquely over the shoulder, diminishing gradually in breadth as it approaches the loins, where it ends in a point. Giant Anteaters are sometimes mistaken for bears because of their claws and bushy fur. The Giant Anteater is a very solitary animal. In Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, an anteater is referred to as an oso hormiguero, literally, "anteating bear".

Anteaters eat ants, termites and soft-bodied grubs. Using the long, sharp claws on their forelimbs, they open insect colonies and tree trunks. They then use the tongue to collect the eggs, larvae, and adult insects. The salivary glands secrete sticky saliva during feeding that coats the tongue. They only stay at one ant colony for a short period of time to avoid soldier ants, but giant anteaters can consume a few thousand insects in minutes. The tongue is attached to the sternum and moves very quickly, flicking 150 times per minute. They will eat fruit and birds' eggs on occasion.
The Giant Anteater and regular anteaters have no teeth. Their physical digestion is aided by the pebbles and debris that they consume when they ingest insects.

The giant Anteater lives above ground, not burrowing underground like armadillo
Armadillo
Armadillos are New World placental mammals, known for having a leathery armor shell. Dasypodidae is the only surviving family in the order Cingulata, part of the superorder Xenarthra along with the anteaters and sloths. The word armadillo is Spanish for "little armored one"...

s or aardvark
Aardvark
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa...

s. The anteater finds a place to sleep, curls up, and covers itself with its bushy tail. Since the anteater is a very solitary animal, it can be easily awoken. When attacked, it can defend itself with its sabre-like anterior claws. They also have the locomotion of knuckle-walking

The female produces one offspring per birth. During much of its first year of life, a young Anteater will ride on its mother's back. It is generally acknowledged that giant Anteaters have a poor sense of sight but a keen sense of smell. Their sense of smell has been estimated to be some 40 times more sensitive than that of humans.

The name of the species, tridactyla, comes from "tri" and "dactylos", which is Greek for "three fingers". However, giant Anteaters actually have five toes on each paw (the fifth is vestigial). The name probably came about because only three of the front toes have prominent claws and can be easily seen. Giant Anteaters rarely make sounds. When they do it is mostly when they are young; the sound is a high-pitched, shrilly grunt noise. A baby that has fallen off his mother's back will grunt to its mother either to remind her that it has fallen off or to simply instruct her where it is or to get her attention.

The two Anteaters of the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Tamandua
Tamandua
Tamandua is a genus of anteaters. It has two members: the Southern Tamandua and the Northern Tamandua . They live in forests and grasslands, are semi-arboreal, and possess partially prehensile tails. They mainly eat ants and termites, but they occasionally eat bees, beetles, and insect larvae...

, the Southern Tamandua
Southern Tamandua
The southern tamandua, also called a collared anteater, or lesser anteater , is a species of anteater from South America. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats from mature to highly disturbed secondary forests and arid savannas. It feeds on ants, termites and bees...

 (Tamandua tetradactyla) and the Northern Tamandua
Northern Tamandua
The northern tamandua is a species of tamandua, a small anteater in the family Myrmecophagidae. They live in tropical and subtropical forests from southern Mexico, through Central America, and to the edge of the northern Andes....

 (Tamandua mexicana), are much smaller than the Giant Anteater, and differ essentially from it in their habits, being mainly arboreal. They inhabit the dense primeval forests of South and Central America. The usual colour is yellowish-white, with a broad black lateral band, covering nearly the whole of the side of the body.

The silky Anteater
Silky Anteater
The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

 (Cyclopes didactylus) is a native of the hottest parts of South and Central America, and about the size of a cat
Cat
The cat , also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felids and felines, is a small, usually furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests...

, of a general yellowish color, and exclusively arboreal in its habits.

Both the tamanduas and the silky Anteater possess partially prehensile tail
Prehensile tail
A prehensile tail is the tail of an animal that has adapted to be able to grasp and/or hold objects. Fully prehensile tails can be used to hold and manipulate objects, and in particular to aid arboreal creatures in finding and eating food in the trees...

s.

Habitat

The anteater is extensively distributed in South
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 and Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

, frequenting low swampy savannas, along the banks of rivers, and the depths of the humid forests, but is nowhere abundant. They are known to inhabit the Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest , also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest that covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America...

.

Evolution

Anteaters are one of three surviving families of a once diverse group of mammals that occupied South America while it was geographically isolated from an invasion of animals from North America, the other two being the sloths and the armadillos.

At one time, it was assumed that anteaters were related to aardvarks and pangolins because of their physical similarities to those animals, but it has since been determined that these similarities are not a sign of a common ancestor, but of convergent evolution
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

. All have evolved powerful digging forearms and long tongues and toothless tube-like snouts in order to make a living by raiding termite mounds. This similarity is the reason aardvarks are also commonly called "anteaters"; the pangolin has been called the "scaly anteater"; and the word "antbear" is a common term for both the aardvark
Aardvark
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa...

 and the giant anteater.

Classification

Order Pilosa
Pilosa
The order Pilosa is a group of placental mammals, extant today only in the Americas. It includes the anteaters and sloths, including the recently extinct ground sloths....

  • Suborder Folivora (sloth
    Sloth
    Sloths are the six species of medium-sized mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae , part of the order Pilosa and therefore related to armadillos and anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws.They are arboreal residents of the jungles of Central and South...

    s)
  • Suborder Vermilingua (Anteaters)
    • Family Cyclopedidae
      Cyclopedidae
      Cyclopedidae is a family of anteaters that includes the silky anteater and its extinct relatives....

      • Genus Cyclopes
        Silky Anteater
        The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

        • Silky Anteater
          Silky Anteater
          The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

           (Cyclopes didactylus)
      • Genus Palaeomyrmidon (fossil)
    • Family Myrmecophagidae
      Myrmecophagidae
      Myrmecophagidae is a family of anteaters, the name being derived from the Ancient Greek words for 'ant' and 'eat' . Myrmecophagids are native to Central and South America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. There are 2 genera and 3 species in the family, consisting of the Giant Anteater,...

      • Genus Myrmecophaga
        • Giant Anteater
          Giant Anteater
          The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

           (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)
      • Genus Neotamandua (fossil)
      • Genus Tamandua
        Tamandua
        Tamandua is a genus of anteaters. It has two members: the Southern Tamandua and the Northern Tamandua . They live in forests and grasslands, are semi-arboreal, and possess partially prehensile tails. They mainly eat ants and termites, but they occasionally eat bees, beetles, and insect larvae...

        • Northern Tamandua
          Northern Tamandua
          The northern tamandua is a species of tamandua, a small anteater in the family Myrmecophagidae. They live in tropical and subtropical forests from southern Mexico, through Central America, and to the edge of the northern Andes....

           (Tamandua mexicana)
        • Southern Tamandua
          Southern Tamandua
          The southern tamandua, also called a collared anteater, or lesser anteater , is a species of anteater from South America. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats from mature to highly disturbed secondary forests and arid savannas. It feeds on ants, termites and bees...

           (Tamandua tetradactyla)
      • Genus Protamandua (fossil)


The Anteaters are more closely related to the sloths than they are to any other group of mammals, even to the armadillos, their next closest relations. There are three genera still living: the Giant Anteater
Giant Anteater
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater. It is the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina...

, the Silky Anteater
Silky Anteater
The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

, and the Northern and Southern Tamandua
Tamandua
Tamandua is a genus of anteaters. It has two members: the Southern Tamandua and the Northern Tamandua . They live in forests and grasslands, are semi-arboreal, and possess partially prehensile tails. They mainly eat ants and termites, but they occasionally eat bees, beetles, and insect larvae...

anteaters, but there are also several extinct genera.

Further reading

  • Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Ed. Michael Hutchins, Arthur V. Evans, Jerome A. Jackson, Devra G. Kleiman, James B. Murphy, Dennis A. Thoney, et al. Vol. 13: Mammals II. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2004. p171-179.
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