Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
(anteaters), a family of mammals of the order Edentata. There are three genera, each embracing a single species. The giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) has a body length of 100–120 cm and a tail length of 60–90 cm; the animal weighs 18–23 kg. The tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) is about 55 cm long and has a tail measuring about 55 cm; this species weighs 3–5 kg. The silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) has a body length of up to 18 cm and a tail length of up to 20 cm.
Anteaters are generously covered with hair; for example, the hair on the back and tail of the giant anteater is up to 40 cm long. The snout is tubular, and there are no teeth. The front limbs have powerful and long claws (up to 10 cm) on the second and third fingers. The tail of tamanduas and silky anteaters is prehensile and naked at the end.
Anteaters are distributed from Mexico to Bolivia, Brazil, and northern Argentina. They inhabit tropical forests and shrub savannas. The animals are terrestrial (giant anteater), arboreal (silky anteater), or terrestrial-arboreal (tamandua). They are mainly crepuscular and nocturnal. Anteaters feed primarily on ants and termites; they destroy the insect nests with their front paws and gather the insects with their long, wormlike, sticky tongues. (The tongue of the giant anteater is up to 60 cm long.) Anteaters reproduce once a year, bearing one young. The female carries the youngster on her back.
The giant anteater, which has been almost killed off in some regions, is now a protected species and may be seen in many zoos.
O. L. ROSSOLIMO