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Giant Anteater

Mymecophaga tridactyla

Photo: Giant anteater searches for a meal

Photo: Giant anteater searches for a meal (View larger version)

Photograph by Nicole Duplaix

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Anteaters are edentate animals—they have no teeth. But their long tongues are more than sufficient to lap up the 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day.

The anteater uses its sharp claws to tear an opening into an anthill and put its long snout and efficient tongue to work. But it has to eat quickly, flicking its tongue up to 160 times per minute. Ants fight back with painful stings, so an anteater may spend only a minute feasting on each mound. Anteaters never destroy a nest, preferring to return and feed again in the future.

These animals find their quarry not by sight—theirs is poor—but by smell.

Anteaters are found in Central and South America, where they prefer tropical forests and grasslands. There are four different species which vary greatly in size. The silky anteater is the size of a squirrel, while the giant anteater can reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) long from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail. Some anteaters, the tamandua and the silky anteater, ply their trade in the trees. They travel from branch to branch in search of tasty insects.

Anteaters are generally solitary animals. Females have a single offspring once a year, which can sometimes be seen riding on its mother's back.

Anteaters are not aggressive but they can be fierce. A cornered anteater will rear up on its hind legs, using its tail for balance, and lash out with dangerous claws. The giant anteater's claws are some four inches (ten centimeters) long, and the animal can fight off even a puma or jaguar.

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