Anteaters — sometimes called “antbears” — are four species of mammals from the suborder Vermilingua. The four species include the Giant Anteater, the Silky Anteater, the Southern Tamandua, and the Northern Tamandua.
The Giant Anteater, as you could probably guess, is the largest of these species. It grows to be about eight feet long (including the tail).
The Northern and Southern Tamanduas — sometimes known as “Collared Anteaters” — grow to be about four feet long. The Silky Anteater is the smallest, growing to be only a little over a foot long.
The anteaters’ suborder, Vermilingua, means “worm tongue.” Since anteaters have no teeth, they must use their long tongues to scoop up the ants and termites that make up the majority of their diet.
An anteater’s tongue can flick up to 160 times per minute, helping to lap up as many as 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day!
When hunting for food, anteaters will use their sharp claws to tear open anthills or rotting wood that might contain ants or termites. Since their sight is poor, they use their noses to smell for food.
They then use their long snouts and tongues to scoop up as many ants and termites as possible. Since they don’t have teeth, they can’t chew the insects.
Instead, they swallow them whole. As they eat, they also swallow small pebbles and other debris. These items help them digest the insects by grinding them in the stomach.
In addition to ants and termites, anteaters also eat soft-bodied grubs, soft fruits, and birds’ eggs. Anteaters in zoos also eat things like fruits, hard-boiled eggs, ground beef, and dog kibble.
If you have much experience with ants, you know that they can sting. Anteaters know this very well.
When ants start to fight back as an anteater is having a meal, the anteater will usually move on to a new location. Instead of destroying a nest of ants, most anteaters prefer to return to feed again in the future.
Anteaters can be found mainly in the tropical forests and grasslands of Central and South America. Giant anteaters usually sleep aboveground, while the other types of anteaters usually live in trees.
Giant anteaters move slowly with a unique shuffle. This is because they walk on their fists (with their claws curled up into their paws) to protect their claws from becoming dulled by the ground. They are also excellent swimmers since they use their long snout like a snorkel.