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Anteaters Are Unusual Animals

Updated on August 8, 2015

Ant Hill

Mounds like this are the source of food for the anteater
Mounds like this are the source of food for the anteater

Introducing Anteaters

Anteaters belong to the Order Pilosa and the sub-order Vermilingua, which comprise four mammal species which eat ants and termites and are related to those other unusual animals the sloths. In days gone by the naturalist, Cuvier placed them in the Order Edentata " toothless" animals. they are all native to the warmer parts of South America.

The sloths { see hub unusual animals of the world-1 the sloths } never come to ground if they can help it while the Giant Anteater never climbs. Ant eaters have a structure worthy of mention. Although they walk on all fours, it is only the hind feet that may be properly regarded as walking feet. That is to say that the whole length of the tarsus or foot bone comes to the ground so affords a broad firm base.

The first joint above the ground has a forward bending action, in other words like a true knee, and the toes, whatever may be their number, have all the phalanges united. The claws on these are weak and small. They as a consequence are slow walking feet, not adapted for climbing. leaping or any other function.

However, the fore feet are very different, and their structure which shows, that the act of walking for them is only a secondary function. The number of toes vary with different species, but there are always fewer on the fore feet than the hind feet. The form of the fore feet resemble that of small rakes and as such are awkward to walk on. They are furnished with much larger and more formidable claws.

When the mammal is at rest they are folded inward upon the palm, which is achieved by ' elastic' ligaments, and even when they are in use, they do not open beyond a right angle to the line of the palm. These are used for the purpose for which they are so well adapted, that is for scraping over the mound of an anthill with ease with an efficiency that would put our man made rakes to shame.

However, when they come to be used for walking, they are not so convenient. From the position of the claws [ which though intended for a very different purpose, bear some resemblance to those of the sloths}, the animal can not walk upon the palms of the fore feet, and besides, in so walking, it would very soon blunt the claws, which are the main instruments for procuring its food. It therefore walks on the outside of those feet, and because this is awkward, the animal is a slow walker. However, this habitual slow walking is not an operation essential to its mode of life, for which it is suitably adapted, every bit as much as the fastest creatures are adapted for their mode of life.

Giant anteater.

The giant anteater can not be mistaken for any other creature.
The giant anteater can not be mistaken for any other creature. | Source

Characteristics of the anteater.

The bodies of all species are long, the head is long and their tails very long. The proportions and uses of those parts can be demonstrated by looking at the attributes of the Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla { formerly M. jubata} which is a large animal. The head from the point of the snout to the ears is about 32cm, {13 inches}. from the head to the insertion of the tail is nearly three and a half feet and the tail a further two and a half feet with an additional foot to the points of the hair. The whole length therefore is around eight feet. it attains the height of three point three feet at the shoulder decreasing by a foot or so at the croup.

The hair on the head is short and close, conversely the body fur is shaggy and dry and in this respect is similar to the sloths. The mouth is small and the tongue slender yet incredible for its length. When at rest the tongue folds back within the mouth but it is protrusile to the length of eighteen inches beyond the snout. The speed with which it can be protruded is at great odds with the sluggish movements of the animal. The speed of the tongue is very necessary for such a large animal feeding on such small prey. The tongue is covered by a sticky secretion, by which the ants are procured. trapped on the tongue they are rubbed off against the palate when the tongue is doubled back into the mouth.

When the anteater arrives at the side of an ant hill, or other burrow of social insects, and inclined to eat, the sense of smell {which is forty times that of humans}, comes into play, as is generally the case with long snouted animals. It is guided to the food by the sense of smell rather than being guided by its small eyes.

The broad hind feet form a firm base while the tail acts as further support as it stretches out its forefeet with claws curving slightly backwards. In this species the claws on the forefeet are four in number. the first and fourth smaller, but the second two inches, and the third 2.5 inches in length, strong and grooved on their posterior surfaces. The stroke of the foot plunges the claws into the mound to their full length, and, as the animal pulls its foot out, it tears a rugged furrow into the mound.

As anyone who has disturbed an ants nest in their garden will testify, any disturbance brings forth hordes of ants. So while the ants are in this agitated state the long tongue of the anteater is protruded over them and withdrawn at the rate of two times a second, many dozens being captured at each time. The ants as is their habit, keep on attacking, and the animal keeps on feeding.

When at rest the large animal rolls into a ball, with the snout doubled on the breast, the legs brought together, and the long bushy tail covering the outer parts. the overall appearance given is of a mound of withered grass, and because it spends the greater part of its time in this mode, it is necessary way of deceiving its enemies.

The giant anteater is a large animal that feed on the tiniest prey.


Giant Anteater

The giant anteater does not climb or clutch with its paws, nor, does it hug anything in any of its natural habits. It is an wholly ground species and does not burrow. They are slow breeding animals, bearing a single young, which she carries on her back tending to its care and needs for up to 10 months. They are quiet, harmless animals living and feeding among ant hills and do not , as far as it is known, do any harm to any other large creature.

Because they are reclusive, it is difficult to know the correct population figure, however, they are considered to be uncommon, even in their native forests.

Other species of Anteaters.

Tamandua is a genus of two species, the Southern Tamandua,Tamandua tetradcactyle { and the northern Tamadua,T,mexicana} The southern species can be told from their northern counterparts by having slightly longer ears. They are a solitary species that sleeps in trres, where it finds a hollow in which to roll up into a ball.

The name Tamadua is Tupi for anteater. It is a far smaller creature than the former only being five inches from snout to ear. The body appears stouter. The legs are also shorter in proportion.These animals walk much better upon the legs, being much more plantigrade, and the claws not quite so much in the way. the feet are adapted for climbing, in which operation the animal is greatly assisted by its prehensile tail, which grasps the branches readily and with a firm hold.

It is a much livelier animal than the former. The fur is short and silky and its tail round and tapering, covered with very short hairs. they feed on ants, termites, occasional beetles and insect larvae or even meat {worms}. They have four claws on the forefeet and five on each hind foot.

Image of Tamandua tetradactyle


Cyclopus didactylus

Cyclopus didactylus the Silky ant eater is a two toed anteater of Central and South America. They are nocturnal and arboreal by nature. the forefeet have two powerful claws, somewhat resembling those of the sloth. The tail is very prehensile. the body length is only 14-18 inches { 35-45cm} Only one young is produced and is usually placed in a nest of dead leaves built within a hole of a tree.

Silky anteater


Unusual animals of the world.

Unusual animals of the world are fascinating creatures and many more will be featured in this series.

Thank you for visiting.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      DDE--Nice to meet you. Thank you for reading and for leaving your appreciated comment, yes they are amazing creatures. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Amazing creatures aren't they a well informed hub thanks

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Eiddwen,

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for taking the time to leave your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      5 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub and I love anything to do with nature/wildlife etc.

      This one was indeed a treat and I share onto my FB page.



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