What do you know about the Giant Anteater?

The giant anteater also known as the ant bear, is a large insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America. It is one of four living species of anteaters and is classified with sloths in the order Pilosa. This species is mostly terrestrial, in contrast to other living anteaters and sloths, which are arboreal or semiarboreal. The giant anteater is the largest of its family, 182–217 cm (5.97–7.12 ft) in length, with weights of 33–41 kg (73–90 lb) for males and 27–39 kg (60–86 lb) for females. It is recognizable by its elongated snout, bushy tail, long fore claws, and distinctively colored pelage.

The giant anteater can be found in multiple habitats, including grassland and rainforest. It forages in open areas and rests in more forested habitats. It feeds primarily on ants and termites, using its fore claws to dig them up and its long, sticky tongue to collect them. Though giant anteaters live in overlapping home ranges, they are mostly solitary except during mother-offspring relationships, aggressive interactions between males, and when mating. Mother anteaters carry their offspring on their backs until weaning them.

The giant anteater is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It has been extirpated from many parts of its former range, including nearly all of Central America. Threats to its survival include habitat destruction, fire, and poaching for fur and bushmeat, although some anteaters inhabit protected areas. With its distinctive appearance and habits, the anteater has been featured in pre-Columbian myths and folktales, as well as modern popular culture.

The giant anteater can be identified by its large size, elongated muzzle, and long bushy tail. It has a total body length of 182–217 cm (5.97–7.12 ft). Males weigh 33–41 kg (73–90 lb) and females weigh 27–39 kg (60–86 lb), making the giant anteater the largest extant species in its suborder. The head of the giant anteater, at 30 cm (12 in) long, is particularly elongated, even when compared to other anteaters. Its tubular snout, which ends in its tiny mouth opening and nostrils, takes up most of its head. Its eyes and ears are relatively small. It has poor eyesight, but its sense of smell is 40 times more sensitive than that of humans. Giant anteaters can live around 16 years in captivity.

Even for an anteater, the neck is especially thick compared to the back of the head, and a small hump can be found at the back of the neck. The coat is mostly grey and salted with white. The forelimbs are white, with black bands around the wrists, while the hindlimbs are dark. Thick black bands with white outlines stretch from throat to shoulder, ending in triangular points. The body ends in a brown tail. The coat hairs are long, especially on the tail, which makes the tail look larger than it actually is. A stiff mane stretches along the back. The bold pattern was thought to be disruptive camouflage, but a 2009 study suggests it is warning coloration. While adult males are slightly larger and more muscular than females, with wider heads and necks, visual sex determination can be difficult. The penis and testes are located internally between the rectum and urinary bladder in males, and females have a single pair of mammary glands near the armpits.

The giant anteater has broad ribs. Despite its specific name, tridactyla, meaning three fingers, it has five toes on each foot. Four toes on the front feet have claws, which are particularly elongated on the second and third digits.[16] It walks on its front knuckles, similar to the African apes, specifically gorillas and chimpanzees. Doing this allows the giant anteater to keep its claws out of the way while walking. The middle digits, which support most of its weight, are extended at the metacarpophalangeal joints and bent at the interphalangeal joints. Unlike the front feet, the hind feet have short claws on all five toes and walk plantigrade. As a "hook-and-pull" digger, the giant anteater's enlarged supraspinous fossa gives the teres major more leverage—increasing the front limbs' pulling power—and the triceps muscle helps power the flexion of the thickened third digit of the front feet.

Internal structure of a giant anteater: The tongue of the anteater is attached directly to the sternum.
The giant anteater has a low body temperature for a mammal, about 33 °C (91 °F), a few degrees lower than a typical mammalian temperature of 36–38 °C (97-100 °F). Xenarthrans in general tend to have lower metabolic rates than most other mammals, a trend thought to correlate with their dietary specializations and low mobility.

The giant anteater has no teeth and is capable of only very limited jaw movement. It relies on the rotation of the two halves of its lower jaw, held together by a ligament at the tip, to open and close its mouth. This is accomplished by its masticatory muscles, which are relatively underdeveloped. Jaw depression creates an oral opening large enough for the slender tongue to flick out. It is typically 60 cm (24 in) long and is triangular posteriorly, rounded anteriorly, and ends in a small, rounded tip. The tongue is covered in backward-curving papillae and coated in thick, sticky saliva secreted from its enlarged salivary glands, which allows the giant anteater to collect insects with it.

The tube-like rostrum and small mouth opening restrict the tongue to protrusion-retraction movements. During feeding, the tongue moves in and out around 160 times per minute (nearly three times per second). According to biologist Virginia Naples, these movements are powered by the unique musculature of the giant anteater's long, large, and flexible hyoid apparatus. Conversely, biologist Karen Reiss states that the anteater's tongue has no attachments to the hyoid and this is what allows it to flick its tongue at such speeds. The animal relies on the orientation of its head for aim. When fully extended, the tongue can reach 45 cm (18 in), longer than the length of the skull. The buccinators allow it to slide back in without losing attached food and tighten the mouth to prevent food from escaping as it extends. When retracted, the tongue is held in the oropharynx by the secondary palate, preventing it from blocking respiration. This retraction is aided by the long sternoglossus muscle, which is formed by the fusion of the sternohyoid and the hyoglossus, and does not attach to the hyoid. Thus, the tongue is directly anchored to the sternum.

Giant anteaters swallow at a much higher rate than most other mammals; when feeding, they swallow almost continuously. Before being swallowed, insects are crushed against the palate. The giant anteater's stomach, similar to a bird's gizzard, has hardened folds and uses strong contractions to grind up the insects. The digestive process is assisted by small amounts of ingested sand and soil. The giant anteater cannot produce stomach acid of its own, but uses the formic acid of its prey for digestion.

Giant anteaters can mate throughout the year. During courtship, a male consorts with an estrous female, following and sniffing her. Male and female pairs are known to feed at the same insect nest. While mating, the female lies on her side as the male crouches over her. A couple may stay together for up to three days and mate several times during that period. Gestation lasts around 190 days and ends with the birth of a single pup, which typically weighs around 1.4 kg (3.1 lb). Females give birth standing upright.

Pups are born with eyes closed and begin to open them after six days. The mother carries its dependent pup on its back. The pup's black and white band aligns with its mother's, camouflaging it. The young communicate with their mothers with sharp whistles and use their tongues during nursing. After three months, the pup begins to eat solid food and is fully weaned by ten months. The mother grooms her offspring during rest periods lasting up to an hour. Grooming peaks during the first three months and declines as the young reaches nine months of age, ending by ten months. The decline mirrors that of the weakening bond between mother and offspring; young anteaters usually become independent by nine or ten months.Anteaters are sexually mature in 2.5–4 years.