Anteaters belong to a sub species called Vermilingua, which only have four mammal species in it. Vermilingua literally means ‘worm eating’ and refers to these animals’ diets, which most consist of ants and termites.
Anteaters are close relatives of the sloths, and thereafter closely related to armadillos. While there are many of its species still alive, four genera are extinct; the silky anteater, the giant anteater, and the northern and southern tamanduas.
The anteater’s main characteristics are its extremely long snout, which as a thin long tongue, which is even longer than its head. Its long mouth has lips but does not have teeth.
They have big curved front claws and very furry bodies. It also has another amazing feature similar to the monkey – its tail. The anteater’s tail in prehensile, which means that it can hold objects with its tail (like griping the branches of a tree to allow it to remain suspended while having full use of its four legs).
These rather funny yet adorable looking creatures have some amazing physical and physiological adaptations to the rainforests, which allow them to continue to multiply.
One of the anteater’s main adaptations is its diet. Although its name suggests it eats large amounts of ants (and termites), it does not ever destroy an entire ant settlement. It eats enough to sustain itself while allowing the insect population to continue so that it will always have a food source.
Its long nose is well adapted too. It has a very keen sense of smell that allows it to sniff out anthills relatively easily, as well as to tell what type of ant lives there. Its nose is at the end of its long pointed snout.
Its nose is positioned in a great way that would allow it to locate food easily, and helps it to hold its nose above the water when he is swimming.
The anteater’s tongue, which is very long, being able to reach about 2 feet beyond its snout is vital for its survival. Its tongue is full of thick sticky saliva, and covered in tiny barbs. These act like sticky paper, allowing him to collect as many ants as possible.
This animal would be lost without its tongue. It is so efficient; it can go in and out at about 150 times a minute, and the barbs and sticky saliva allow him to eat about 30,000 ants a day! It can shift in and out so quickly because the anteater’s snout is long like a tube and does not have teeth.
Their digestive system is unique. They have powerful muscles that act as grinders, grinding the ants and termites they eat, after which this crushed food is dissolved in powerful stomach acids. Its powerful muscle makes up for its missing teeth too.
The anteater has long sharp powerful claws, with three middle toes on each of its feet. He uses the strong claws to open termite mounds and anthills. These claws also help him when he is climbing trees by allowing him a strong grip.
These claws also serve as a defense against his predators. When confronted, the anteater swipes with these large claws.
Claws and nails get less efficient with wear and tear of daily use. Not for the anteater though. The anteater protects its claws by walking on the outer sides of its feet, holding its claws and soles above the ground.
As mentioned earlier, the anteater’s prehensile tail has evolved to give the animal a better grip on branches, by having no hair on certain parts of it, although most of its tail is covered with long hair.
Finally, their tails also keep them warm. When the weather is chilly, these furry creatures wrap the tail around themselves for that extra bit of warmth.