Giant anteaters are the largest species of anteater. They are distinguished by their long nose which is comprised of fused upper and lower jaw bones. Also they have rubbery skin, huge claws, and long hairs. Anteaters walk on their knuckles to protect their long claws from becoming dull. They also have an impressively long tongue, reaching up to 24 inches (50cm) in length.
Diet: Termites and ants make up the majority of their diet. In one day, one anteater can eat up to 30,000 insects! To reach their prey, anteaters use their long claws to rip open ant hills and termite mounds, and then use their tongue (covered in sticky saliva) to collect the insects. They also suck up ants by creating a vacuum in their throat. At Reid Park Zoo, our anteaters receive a diet of soaked insectivore chow along with fruits – their favorite being avocado.
In the Wild: Giant anteaters are predominantly solitary and can be nocturnal or diurnal depending on the region. They have very poor eyesight, and use their keen sense of smell to get around. Their body temperature is the lowest of any terrestrial mammal at 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit). With a low body temperature and slow moving body, anteaters are adapted to conserve energy since termites and ants are not very nutritious. They spend up to 16 hours sleeping, wrapping their tail around them like a blanket to conserve body heat and help them camouflage.
Conservation issues/actions: Giant anteater populations have declined by an estimated 30% over the last 20 years, giving them their vulnerable status. Some of the biggest threats to the giant anteater are encroachment on their habitat from agricultural farmers and the slash and burn method of agriculture. They are also among the most common animals that become roadkill. Reid Park Zoo has partnered with the conservation project Anteaters & Highways to study and reduce this threat.
At the Zoo:
The logo of Reid Park Zoo is the giant anteater. This is because we have a successful breeding program with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for giant anteaters, and we have had anteaters at our Zoo for over 50 years. Conservation efforts such as the Species Survival Plan are essential for preserving the genetic diversity of animal populations in human care, and help safeguard against the decline of populations in the wild.