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Giant Anteater
Myrmecophaga tridactyla

The Giant Anteater is indeed giant; it can grow to lengths of up to 6 ½ feet! It's body is covered in thick, straw-like hairs. As the name suggests, anteaters eat ants and termites in vast quantities, sometimes up to 30,000 insects in a single day. The anteater will rip open a termite hill with its clawed hand and work its tube-like snout into the opening, sticking its long, worm-shaped tongue down into the heart of the colony and trapping the insects on its tongue's sticky coating.

The mouth of anteaters is very small, barely big enough to pass a pencil, but the tongue is very long and can protrude out of its mouth up to two feet. The tongue is heavily coated with thick, sticky saliva when it is in use. It has backward-pointing hairs that can be stiffened into spines. The tongue is attached to the sternum and can be flicked in and out at the rate of 150 or more times a minute. Insects are mashed against the hard pallet in their mouth.

The arms are extremely powerful and animals, including humans, caught in their grip, succumb. The claws, used to rip open concrete-hard termite and ant mounds, can cause tremendous damage. Anteaters seldom spend more than a couple of minutes feeding at any one nest. Only a few thousand insects are removed at one feeding and then the nest is abandoned to repairs. The anteaters circulate around their territories, feeding lightly here and there, never destroying any one nest and, therefore, never eliminating any of their food base. Termites and ants recover losses very rapidly.

Anteaters, like sloths, have a very slow metabolism, maintaining a low body temperature and sleeping a large portion of the day. Giant anteaters dig a depression and curl up in it, covering themselves with their tail. Excellent hearing awakens them at the slightest sound.

The color pattern on the anteater helps it camouflage in the forest. Baby anteaters ride on their mothers back and blend in with the patterns on their mother, making the youngster virtually invisible. This is a way of protecting the baby from predators. Female anteaters are pregnant for about 190 days and when they give birth they are standing upright, propped by the tail. The newborn climbs through the fur onto the mother's back and she then licks her new baby clean. Usually there is only one baby. The youngster usually stays with the mother until nearly fully grown, about two years.

The anteater's biggest enemies are the puma and the jaguar. These large predators must be careful in their attacks, however, because if the anteater fights back and uses it's powerful claws in defense, the claws may prove to be fatal. All anteaters use the same fear-defense posture. They rear onto the hind legs, using their tail for balance, and extend their sharp claws. They mark their territory with anal gland secretions. The anteater's scent is so strong that the natives have nick-named it "stinker of the forest."

Giant anteaters are hunted in South America for their rich meat and for trophies. They are also killed because they are mistakenly believed to kill dogs and cattle, and, perhaps most frequently, because they are easy to kill.

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