I never really knew there was more than one species of anteater, but apparently there are four of them. Of course, everyone has probably heard of giant anteaters, because they are huge and impressive looking. But I had never heard of silky anteaters, which are infinitely more appealing to me because they are the smallest species of anteater.

Silky anteaters live in rainforests in Central and South America, from Mexico to Brazil and Peru. They are arboreal, meaning they spend most or all of their time in trees, and have a particular affinity for silk cotton trees. These trees are important to the silky anteater because their fur looks very much like the seed pods of the cotton trees, giving the tiny creatures an excellent place to hide.

It’d be pretty hard to tell the difference between a seed and that ball of fur from a distance.
Image by Michelle Reback, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned that silky anteaters are the smallest anteaters, but how small is small for an anteaters? Well, they weigh between 175 and 400g, and have a maximum length of 45cm, which includes a tail length of 17-24cm. So pretty small. Silky anteaters are covered in silvery yellow fur (which is what gives them such excellent camouflage). Their front feet have two large claws that help the anteater grip branches, while the back feet have four toes with long claws on each toe.

Being fairly small animals, silky anteaters have to worry about predators. These include eagles, owls, and hawks, which are all adept hunters with excellent vision. To try and save themselves from getting eaten, silky anteaters utilize a number of different tactics. First, they only move around and look for food at night. During the day they stay curled up in balls trying to look like seed pods. If a predator does get too close, the anteaters rear up and brandish their sharp front claws.

Okay so those claws are terrifying and the feet are creepy – but at least it has a cute face!
Image by DuSantos, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you might have guessed, silky anteaters eat mostly ants for food. They consume these tiny creatures in large quantities, sometimes eating 5,000 insects in a day. That’s a lot of squirmy little bugs. And if you think that’s gross, you’ll love what baby silky anteaters get to eat — partially digested bugs that are regurgitated by their parents. Lovely.

Still, as far as insect eating creatures go, the silky anteater is pretty cute. That’s how the world works — bigs creatures are imposing and dignified, while small ones are cute. Which means I now like silky anteaters better than giant anteaters (I’ll still probably blog about the latter at some point).

Cover image by Quinten Questel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit