Four species of anteater exist: the giant anteater, the silky anteater and two types of tamandua. All anteaters are found in Central America and South America. Anteaters commonly inhabit areas where insects are plentiful such as grasslands, savannahs, swamplands and the rainforest. Anteaters are known for their slow, shuffling walk while their long noses are pressed to the ground, smelling for insects.
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Anteaters differ in size depending on their species. Giant anteaters can grow to be 7 feet in length from tail to snout and weigh up to 45.4 Kilogram, while smaller species, such as the silky anteater, are only about the size of a common ground squirrel. The giant anteater's fur is usually brown or grey in colour. Tamanduas are also brown or grey, but can also have yellow or tan fur. Anteaters have a slender head, long snout and long tail.
Giant anteaters can eat over 35,000 ants and termites a day. Anteaters lick up the insects with their long tongues and swallow them without chewing because they do not have teeth. Anteaters are also known to eat fruit or grubs off of the ground.
The smaller species of anteater, such as the silky anteater and the tamandua, often hunt insects within trees, while the giant anteater looks for ants and termites on the ground. Giant anteaters use their acute sense of smell to locate termite mounds and ant hills. When they find one, they use their large paws and claws to make an opening in the mound or hill. The anteater then places its long, tube-like snout into the hole and uses its tongue to catch the insects inside. The anteater usually moves its long tongue back and forth about 150 times a minute in order to gather insects. Anteaters rarely knock down an entire ant nest or termite mound but feed for only about a minute before returning at a later time.
Anteaters usually gives birth to only one baby at a time. The baby anteater nurses its mother for about eight weeks before moving onto eat termites and insects. The young anteater stays with its mother for one and a half to two years or until she becomes pregnant again. Offspring will often ride on their mothers' backs for protection from predators.
The giant anteater, though slow, can be aggressive when attacked. Large cats such as jaguars and pumas often stalk the giant anteater. It has powerful arms and legs and large claws which it uses to protect itself. Sometimes the giant anteater can kill predators trying to attack it. The tamandua, or lesser anteater, has a defence mechanism much like a striped skunk. If it sense danger, it will release a foul odour from a gland located at the base of its tail.
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