In my life I have been fortunate enough to have travelled rather extensively and to have seen some pretty incredible things. I am not a ‘city traveller’, as in I do not travel to places to see touristy sites, ancient buildings and museums. I am a ‘nature traveller’. I travel to wild places and destinations in search of unusual, rare, endemic or beautiful aspects of nature…the flora and fauna. To date my most exceptional thing to have done whilst traveling was to ‘Walk with a Giant Anteater’. Quite simply it is a life changing experience! If you have any inclination towards ‘nature traveling’ then I would recommend putting this in your bucket list!
The elongated claws force the anteater to walk on its knuckles, similar to the platypus and African apes, specifically gorillas and chimpanzees.
It feeds primarily on ants and termites, using its foreclaws to dig them up and its long, sticky tongue to collect them. Though giant anteaters live in overlapping home ranges, they are mostly solitary other than when mating, during mother-offspring relationships and aggressive interactions between males. Mother anteaters carry their offspring on their backs until weaning them.
The giant anteater, also known as the ant bear, is a large insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America. It is one of four living species of anteater and is classified with the sloths in the order Pilosa
The giant anteater detects termite mounds and anthills with its keen sense of smell and tears them open with its strong claws. What we call an anteater’s nose is actually an elongated jaw with a small, black, moist nose, like a dog’s nose. Giant anteaters have a two-foot-long tongue and huge salivary glands that produce copious amounts of sticky saliva when they feed. They may eat as much as 30 000 ants in a single day!
In the mythology and folklore of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin and the Pantanal, the Giant Anteater is depicted as a trickster to the jaguar as well as a humorous figure due to its long snout. In one old wives tale, an anteater challenged a jaguar to a breath holding contest underwater, which the jaguar accepted. After the two removed their pelts and submerged, the anteater jumped out of the water and stole the jaguar’s pelt, leaving the jaguar with the anteater’s pelt.
Interestingly it is well known that Anteaters are able to kill jaguars using the so called ‘hug-of-death’.To protect themselves, anteaters can rear up on their hind legs, roaring and slashing at an attacker with those powerful front legs and sharp claws. The sharp claws simply slice through the body of the jaguar.
During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the giant anteater was one of many native fauna taken to Europe for display. At first, Europeans believed that all anteaters were female and mated with their noses.
Giant anteaters use their hairy, bushy tails to curl over them like a blanket when the weather is cool.
Living in the Pantanal the Anteaters need to be good swimmers. They use the freestyle stroke and their long snout as a snorkel.
It is estimated that only 5,000 Giant Anteaters are left in the wild! We felt privileged leaving Caiman Ecological Refuge having seen 6 of these endangered animals.
See these links for the other posts so far in the series:
1. The Pantanal Series: Caiman Ecological Refuge
2. The Pantanal Series: By Air
3. The Pantanal Series: Hyacinth Macaw Project
4. The Pantanal Series: Cattle and Wildlife
Written by Adam Bannister
Photography by Adam Bannister
Inspired by Smithsonian Institute, Wikipedia and the San Diego Zoo website