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The anteater is one of the most unusual looking animals in the animal kingdom. It has a long cylindrical snout, bushy tail and turned-in front feet. The body of this animal is 3 to 4 feet long and the tail spans another 2 to 3 feet. It has coarse, stiff hair that is gray brown in color. Wedge shaped black stripes bordered with white fall across its shoulders, giving the animal a most distinct appearance. There are three species of anteaters with the majority found in Central and South America.
Of the three species, the giant anteater is usually found in swamps and open forest, from British Honduras and Guatemala to northern Argentina. The silky anteater and tamandua live in the forest of southern Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil. They are solitary animals and if two are seen together it is most usually a mother and her offspring. One young is born each spring with the gestation period taking 190 days. The baby anteater clings to the mothers back until it is close to half her size and will stay with her until she becomes pregnant again. Some anteaters, such as the silky anteater, are reported to build a nest of dry leaves in hollowed out trees. They will leave their young in the nest while they go out to feed and return to feed the infant a meal of regurgitated insects. This is rare in mammals since most feed their young mothers milk until they can eat solid foods.
Predators of the silky anteater include the harpy eagle, spectacled owl and several different eagle hawks. When threatened they will rear up on their hind legs and slash or punch with the long claws of their front feet. It is reported that the silky anteater will seek out the silk cotton tree so the sheen of its fur will make it difficult to see. The giant anteater is known to be a formidable enemy. It has been known to turn away jaguars and other carnivores with its claws alone. Anteaters feed almost exclusively on termites, ants and soft-bodied grubs. They tear holes in the tough walls of the termites’ nest with the sharp claws of their front feet, then push their long muzzle inside and probe around with their 8 to 10 inch tongue to trap the insects in sticky saliva.
The giant anteater lives on the ground and is almost always in search of food. They appear to have no permanent resting place or burrow, but instead curls up in any sheltered place. It has sometimes been known to take over the burrow of another animal for shelter but in most cases remains in the open. When the giant anteater is found in remote areas it is mostly diurnal. But when found near towns it has become nocturnal. There are two remarkable features of the anteater, their feet and teeth. The giant anteater walks on the knuckles of their front feet. This appears to be an adaptation to protect the long, sickle shaped claws from being worn down. This awkward adaptation is emphasized by the almost human shape of the hind feet, which have heels that rest on the ground, and five toes of almost equal length. It stands to reason that any animal with such a great nose would have a good sense of smell. When this animal’s sense of smell was tested it proved to be remarkably good and in most cases far better than other mammals. In fact, the anteater’s sense of smell is forty times greater than that of humans.