Imagine yourself in the Amazon rainforest, walking on a trail, when suddenly you see something big moving in front of you. Even knowing most of the species of an area, your brain will spend some minutes processing the image in front of you… long fur, about two feet tall standing on “all fours.” But…. where is the head? You are then confronted with the bizarre sight of a conical head and a tiny pair of eyes. The animal has stopped in front of you, and by the looks of it, it seems that the creature is also having trouble figuring out what creature are you. Less than a second passes and it runs away. Was that a giant anteater? … YES!!! IT WAS A GIANT ANTEATER!!! You can imagine my excitement.
Maybe you haven’t seen a giant anteater, or if you have, maybe you don’t know very much about them. Giant anteaters occur only in South and Central America (from Honduras to Paraguay and Argentina) and are extremely elusive animals. They are known in scientific classification as Myrmecophaga tricdactyla, and are very sensitive to human disturbances of the places they live. For that reason they are they are more frequently found in pristine forests and tropical savannas.
Giant anteater are in the taxonomic Order Pilosa, which also includes the sloths. In the past they were grouped in the same taxonomic group with armadillos but, recently, scientists examined their DNA and separated armadillos into a different order . An anteater’s elongated skull (around 450 mm) and sticky tongue (which can be projected to a distance equal or greater than the length of its head) are adaptations for a diet based on ants and termites (also known as myrmecophagy). They do not have teeth but have huge claws that can be used for defense. Their big claws help them to easily open ant nests to get lunch . Giant anteaters are solitary animals that have no more than one offspring each year.
I am telling you about giant anteaters because they are one of my favorite animals and because I may be a little homesick. But also because this is quiet, little known, and strange species is endangered. The giant anteater is currently listed as a vulnerable species by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (UICN) and it is already extinct in El Salvador, Guatemala y Uruguay . There are four alive species of anteater in the world: The silky anteater Cyclopes didactylus, the southern tamandua Tamandua tetradactyla, the northern tamandua Tamandua mexicana and the giant anteater Myrmecophaga tricdactyla, but you can guess which one is bigger (1000-1900 mm of head and body, 640-900mm of tail).
Fig 1 Giant anteater with offspring (World Wildlife Fund & Botanical Research Institute of Texas)
Find the eyes of the Giant Anteater.
Can you spot the baby?
I hope that you will have the opportunity to meet one of these wonderful creatures and can appreciate the amazing animal adaptation and evolutionary forces at work. Just be careful when you find one; they can be dangerous animals even though they look so cute and harmless.
 Wilson, Don E., and DeeAnn M. Reeder, eds. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Vol. 2. JHU Press, 2005.
 Naples, Virginia L. “Morphology, Evolution and Function of Feeding in the Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga Tridactyla).” Journal of Zoology 249, no. 1. (1999): 19–41.
 Miranda F., Bertassoni, A. and Abba, A.M. 2014. “ *Myrmecophaga tridactyla *En: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014”. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.20141.RLTS.T14224A47441961.en (accessed Feb 18, 2016).
More From Thats Life [Science]
- The Purebred Poodle Problem
- Let It Glow
- I’m Likin’ That Lichen
- Celebrate the Holidays with a Decorative Parasite
- Sleeping One Hemisphere at a Time
- Through the Mycologist's Hand Lens: Deceptive Decomposers
- Life Science in Outer Space!
- 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Rats
- Watermelon Snow
- Critter Candid Cam
- Three Cool Plants in Hot Places
- A parasite only a moth could love
- Telling tales of plants and their names
- The Colorful World of Primate Hair
- Where do fish go in winter?
- You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours
- Alien Microbes: How studying hyperthermophiles can help us discover life on other planets
- Life, the universe, and everything: Dreams of being a biophysicist
- Bug Sleuth – One Entomologist’s Mission to ID a Mysterious Swarm of Wasps
- Horny and Hungry: The Dilemma of Sexual Cannibalism
- Who’s who? The elusive difference between butterflies and moths
- Tuberculosis - A Romantic Disease?
- Ode to a Few Arachnids
- Monotropa uniflora - This wildflower is pretty wild
- Eavesdropping in the Animal Kingdom: Sneaky Creatures Just Trying to Get Ahead
- Trypanosomes - A Weird Pathogen You Haven't Heard Of
- A Beautiful 9/11 Tribute, but a Fiasco for Migratory Birds
- Cats can have AIDS, too.
- Part 2: Does catching Pidgeys help you notice Pigeons? Interviews with Pokémon Go Researchers
- Biodiversity in my Backyard: Encounters with Pidgeys and Dratinis, Part 1
- Fins, Limbs, Rays, and Digits – A Beginner’s Guide to Terrestrial Living
- Fins, Limbs, Rays, and Digits – A Beginner's Guide to Terrestrial Living
- Five things that really stink about the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
- Tricks but no Treats - An Orchid’s Guide to Making a Fool of Your Pollinator
- Tracking the lost years - where do baby sea turtles grow?
- Posing as a Bird Mama: the adventures of a researcher-turned-bird-parent
- Hot moves and sexy sons · When Boys Become Men By Dancing
- The hungry caterpillar in real life
- Mantis Shrimp Vision - Seeing in Secret Code
- When It Comes to Bird Beaks - Size Matters
- Is your gut trying to kill your resolve? · Mind over microbe
- Recent talk of walls in the media has brought up a lot of emotions, but what do walls do in nature? · When a Wall is just a Wall
- Bees are more than buzzing insects around you · May the Bees Be With You: Maintaining the Sweet Balance in Life
- Neither a toad nor a worm · Nematodes: The super microscopic animal!
- Snap! Flash! Bang! Find out how ocean-dwelling pistol shrimp fire bubble ‘bullets’ to stun their unsuspecting prey. · How Pistol Shrimp Kill with Bubbles
- Who needs males after all?
- Ecology and Behavior of Woodchucks · Opposition Research on My Garden’s Greatest Nemesis
- Vision in Jumping Spiders · Watching Your Every Move
- Slimed and Consumed - The Blob is Real!
- The Evolution and Ecological Impacts of Cats · Lion in Sheep's Clothing
- What happens when frogs have to compete for acoustic space and a chance to be heard? · Struggling to be Heard - Competition in a Complex Soundscape
- Think Genghis Khan and Napoleon were the most successful invaders? Think again. · Invasive Species and Invasion: Part 1
- When, and how, terror birds invade
- 8 Reasons Plants Are Amazing
- Too Clean for Comfort · How our obsession with cleanliness might be hurting our health
- Stop, evaluate, and listen - serotonin surges when a female is present
- No Teeth, Long Tongue, No Problem - Adaptations for Ant-eating
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Predators, Parasitoids, and Parasites
- How our microbiome affects our health and vice versa · If you don't care for your microbiome, you might want to start
- Finding new ways to grow bacteria to progress science · Culturing the Least Cultured Members of Society
- Hit the Road Jack
- What Happened to Your Nose?
- Building better plants - Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution
- Love Songs for Nobody - Birdsong in Winter
- We know we get infections from time to time. Why does this happen? · The Evolution of Virulence
- How cheese rinds may be a valuable tool for microbial discovery · The Unseen World – On Cheese?
- Find Me Where the Wild Things Are
- A commentary on how to make science more ‘clickable’ · You won’t believe this simple trick to tell if your coral is healthy or not
- Some species hide in plain sight, but scientists have ways to suss them out · Cryptic Species Hide in Plain Sight
- Minuscule Hitchhikers Pinch a Ride · Creature Feature - Pseudoscorpions
- World Fish Migration Day 2016!
- Walking With Giant Anteaters
- Why we should care about sea turtles · When A Sea Turtle Balanced Earth
- More ›