Giant Anteater

(Myrmecophaga tridactyla)




Facts about this animal

Giant Anteaters are amongst the strangest looking creatures on earth. Although many people think it is the nose that gives the giant anteater its peculiar shape it actually is the head itself which is prolonged and terminating in a tiny mouth. The mouth opening is no more than only a few millimetres. The snout bears no teeth at all. Thus, the giant anteater truly is an "edentate". Usually it is a solitary animal foraging the grasslands for its preferred food items - ants. It is found anywhere where there is plenty of ants. The long snorkel-like snout is perfectly equipped for the intake of ants and other small insects. The tongue, which is the longest in the mammalian world, can be extended as much as 60 cm. The sticky saliva, produced by enormous glands, helps in getting hold of the tiny prey animals. It has been estimated that an adult animal needs to consume approximately 35,000 ants per day. The strong claws on the forehand are commonly considered to be of use in ripping open termite hills. In reality they are dangerous weapons with which the otherwise harmless animal offends its prime enemies - jaguars and cougars.

Usually one young is born which is carried on the mother's back for at least 10 months. An interesting fact is the coloration of the animals. The young's position on the back is exactly so that the black stripe on the side is consistent with the mother's stripe - a specific type of camouflage.

Did you know?
That the giant anteater's name is quite appropriate as the main food item are ants. It can be read in many books that the giant anteaters' main food source are termites as they can often be seen ripping termite mounds apart. But from in situ observations it is known that they are looking for ants which inhabit the mounds after the termite population has died out or left it.


Name (Scientific) Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Name (English) Giant Anteater
Name (French) Fourmilier géant ou Tamanoir
Name (German) Grosser Ameisenbär
Name (Spanish) Hormiguero gigante, Oso hormiguero, Oso caballo
Local names Brazil: Tamanduá-bandeira, Yurú mi (Indian.)
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed


This factsheet was compiled by
Frank Brandstätter, Zoo Dortmund, October 2005


Photo Copyright by
Malene Thyssen



Range Central and South America, from Belize and southern Guatemala to northern Argentina
Habitat Savannahs, grasslands, deciduous forest and rainforest; with a preference for open vegetation
Wild population Unknown, but locally abundant (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 257 (123.128.6) are registered by the International studbook (Dec 31, 2007). The Studbook was established in 1988 and is kept by Dortmund Zoo.

In the Zoo

Giant Anteater


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 75 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations  should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Howard Cheng

Why do zoos keep this animal

Until recently giant anteaters have only been kept as additional animals in multi-species South American enclosures. Fortunately they have now become a focus animal for several zoos. Its status in the wild is vulnerable and numbers are declining rapidly in certain parts of their distribution. Thus, there is the chance to preserve one of the most intriguing species on earth for the future as long as there is still time.