Lee Richardson Zoo

Giant Anteater

Order Xenarthra – Anteaters, armadillos, and sloths
Family Myrmecophagidae - anteaters and tamandua

Scientific name:  Myrmecophaga tridactyla


DescriptionThe Giant Anteater is the largest member of the anteater family and is approximately the size of a large dog.  Body weights of captive bred animals vary between 65 to 125 lbs. as adults.  Wild individuals tend to weigh from 40-90 lbs.  They grow to a length of 6 ft. with the tail accounting for almost half of its total length.  The body is covered by long, straw-like hairs that can reach to 16 inches on the tail.  Color can vary from gray to brown, but all have a black diagonal stripe trimmed in white across the chest and shoulders and pointing toward the middle of the back. They have 5 short claws on the hind feet and 5 long, sharp claws on the forefeet that are excellent for digging.  When walking, they curl the fore-claws under and walk on the wrist joint instead.  The Giant Anteater does not have any teeth, even when they reach adulthood.  Instead, they crush their food by using their muscular stomach and hard protrusions inside their mouth.  Their tongue can grow to a maximum of 2 feet long and has small spine-like extensions (filiform papillae) at the tip for grabbing food.  Sticky saliva also coats the tongue and aids in the capture of their food.  Their eyes and ears are both small, but the tapered snout can reach up to 18 inches in length.

Home RangeCentral and South America; from Belize and Guatemala to Paraguay and Argentina


Habitat typeUtilizes a wide variety of habitats including: grasslands, rainforest, deciduous forests, and swamps.



Reproductive habits: Giant Anteaters breed year round in both captivity and the wild, with some seasonal breeding occurring in portions of their range.  During copulation, the female will lie on her side while the male stands over her.  After a gestation of approximately 175 days, the female gives birth to a single baby while in a standing position.  The newborn will immediately crawl onto the mother’s back.  The young anteater has a coat that is slightly softer than the adults but with similar markings.  The mother will suckle the young for 2-6 months and carry the young on her back for 6-9 months. They become independent around 2 years and reach sexual maturity between 2.5-4 years of age.


Diet in WildAlmost exclusively ants, termites and soft-bodied grubs; on rare occasions they eat fruit.


Diet in ZooInsectivore diet and meal worms.


General InfoGiant Anteaters are usually solitary and only come together during breeding (except for the mother/young pair).  While they prefer to flee when threatened, they can be aggressive.  Standing up on their hind legs and using their long tail as a tripod for balance, they will slash at a predator with their long, sharp fore-claws.  This method may also be used when fighting other anteaters.   Giant Anteaters are generally a quiet animal, but will make a bellowing noise when fighting.  Sometimes the mother and young will communicate through a serious of soft hisses, snorts, and sniffs.


The tongue of the Giant Anteater is attached to the sternum and can extend up to 2 feet outside of the mouth.  It can be “flicked” 150-160 times per minute to gather food, allowing the Giant Anteater to eat as many as 30,000 insects per day.  It is generally agreed by scientists that sight and hearing is diminished while smell is highly developed (40 times that of a human) and is used to sniff out insects underground. 


Their home-range can extend up to 9,000 hectare (34.7 square miles), but they have also been known to roam extensively beyond this.  They are primarily diurnal but can become nocturnal in areas that have a high density of people or during extended bad weather.  While they do have the ability to dig well, they do not construct burrows to sleep in.  Instead, they utilize dense vegetation, shallow ground depressions, or burrows that have been abandoned by other animals.  Unlike other anteater species, the Giant Anteater rarely climbs trees (even though it is capable of doing so).  They are at home in the water and are good swimmers.


PredatorsDue to their size, only the largest of predators pose a threat to the Giant Anteater.  The Jaguar and the Mountain lion have both been known to prey on the Giant Anteater.  Humans pose a threat as well by hunting or by accidental car collisions.


Conservation Status:  Near threatened on Redlist, Appendix II of CITES due to habitat loss and being poached for trophies, food, and for their pelt.



Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol 13.  Second Edition.  2004.  The Gale Group, Inc., Farmington Hills, MI.  pp.   171-176, 178-179.


Woltanski, A. 2004. "Myrmecophaga tridactyla" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 24, 2008 at .


1998 Husbandry Manual for Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla, Michael P. Flint, Gen Curator, Reid Park Zoo. Tucson, AZ. pg.2