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Myrmecophaga tridactyla - Giant Anteater

Physical Description:

Myrmecophaga tridactyla has a tall slender body (3-6 feet) and long tail (3 feet), weighing the animal in at 48-86 pounds (RCF 2001). The curved tubular snout can be as long as 45cm long with a two foot long tongue inside that has spiny protrusions on it (Brainerd 1999). The tongue is set between tapered jawbones that are not fused in the middle to help the pumping action that darts the tongue in and out. There are huge tongue muscles that extend down the throat and anchor to the breastbone to allow the tongue to slide in and out of the mouth up to 160 times a minute (Sunquist 1996). It has large salivary glands (also stretching from the mouth to chest) that secrete a glue-like saliva that isn’t found in any other mammal. The animal has no teeth so the reinforced stomach muscles grind up the food. The streamline head is small with tiny eyes and ears and the brain is no bigger than a pea. It is covered with thick coarse grayish-brown fur with a crest along the middle of the back. There is a wide black stripe that is bordered with white running from the shoulder to the chest and neck. The tail fur is longer and resembles a horse’s mane. The forefeet and hindfeet have 5 claws with the inner 3 on the forefeet being long, sharp, and recurved which forces them to walk on their knuckles (RCF 2001). Its body temperature is only about 90° F, which is colder than any other mammal (De Roy 2003).


The Giant Anteater is found in grasslands, deciduous forest, and rainforest of Central and South America, from southern Belize and Guatemala to Uruguay and northern Argentina. They can have a home range as big as 9,000ha (De Roy 2003).

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

The mating habits are only known from captive observation. To mate the male will stand over the female as she lies on her side. They reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2 ½ and 4 years. After a gestation period of 190 days a single offspring is born weighing almost 3 pounds and looking just like the adults. Immediately after birth the cub will climb onto the mother’s back where is will ride for five or six months. The cub will feed from the mammary glands, located lateral to the armpits, for about six months. The cub will stay with the mother for about two years. The lifespan of wild Giant Anteaters is unknown, but in captivity they can live for 25 years. (De Roy 2003)

Ecology and Behavior:

These animals are widely nomadic and solitary, only coming together to mate. In the wild they ignore each other or run away. But when a fight occurs they rear up on their hindfeet, using their tail for balance, and using their extremely strong forelegs and claws to tear the enemy apart. They are mainly diurnal and are good swimmers and climbers, though they don’t normally climb trees in the wild. They will sleep in abandoned burrows, depressions in the ground, or dense vegetation. (De Roy 2003)

Literature Cited:

Brainerd, Elizabeth. Nature. “Lickety Split.” Oct. 1999. vol 401. issue 6755. p.757

De Roy, Tui. National Wildlife. “The strangest animal I’ve ever met.” Jun/Jul 2003, vol 41. issue 4. p34A, 6p, 5c

Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF). 2001. “Rainforest Conservation Fund: Species Data for Giant Anteater.” (on-line). Accessed 10-02-04 at

Sunquist, Fiona. International Wildlife. “Two species, one design.” Sept. 1996. vol 26. issue 5. p.28

Reference written by Jenni Wozniak, Biology 378 (Mammalogy), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.  Edited by Christopher Yahnke. Page last updated August 8, 2005.

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