I’ve written about a lot of strange and hilarious animals on this blog, but sadly I’ve neglected one of the silliest animals around: the giant anteater. Don’t get me wrong, anything that big that survives by eating ants is a pretty amazing creature, but they do look quite funny. Something about that long snout and the way they lumber around is definitely chuckle-worthy.

Giant anteaters live in South and Central America, primarily in Brazil. Within their range, they are found in a wide variety of habitats, such as forests, swamps, and grasslands, in both urban and rural areas.  Unlike other anteaters and sloths (their close relatives), the giant anteater spends most of its time on the ground instead of in trees. It’s pretty hard to picture something as big as a giant anteater climbing, though apparently they are good at climbing out of captive enclosures.

A giant anteater. Can you spot the giant panda in the picture? Image by Malene Thyssen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The word giant probably tips you off that this anteater is fairly large, but how big is giant? Pretty massive, I’d say. Their head and body can reach lengths of 1.2 m, with an additional 90 cm of tail. They can weigh over 40 kg. Anteaters have long, coarse fur that is brown and black with various white stripes.

Giant anteaters have massive claws on their forefeet, which they use to dig up their favourite food: ants (surprise!) and termites. They have no teeth, but have a snaky tongue that can be 61 cm in length, and is covered in spines. The tongue is coated in sticky saliva and makes the perfect tool for scooping up copious amounts of insects. Anteaters can eat thousands of bugs in just a few minutes. They find their prey using their acute sense of smell, which is 40 times that of humans.

An anteater sleeping under its tail and showing off its great big claws. Image by Mateus Hidalgo, CC BY-SA 2.5 BR, via Wikimedia Commons

Anteaters are usually solitary, only coming together to mate. If they do happen to pass each other in the wild, they will often simply ignore one another, only occasionally bothering to fight. Giant anteaters don’t really look like they’re built to fight, but when they rear up on their hind legs and use those long claws to swipe at their enemies, I imagine they’d be pretty formidable.

Reproduction in giant anteaters can occur at any time of the year. Males and females spend a few days together, feeding at the same locations and mating a few times. The female anteater gives birth to a single baby after 190 days. The baby anteater, which weighs just over a kilogram, immediately climbs onto its mother’s back, where she will carry it until it is ix to nine months old. Young giant anteaters reach sexual maturity between two and four years of age.

It’s pretty impressive for something so large to subsist solely on insects, which makes me appreciate giant anteaters. I’m also a fan of their awkwardness, so that’s two points for these guys. Anteaters are awesome.

Cover image by Davepape, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons