Despite its name, this strange animal has no relationship with bears. They are direct relatives of the tamandúas, lazy and more distantly of the armadillos. Its origin goes back about 60 million years ago, shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
These anteaters reach 2 meters in length and weigh 40 kg.
Their diet, as the name suggests, is mainly based on ants and termites. Using their strong claws, they destroy the anthills or termite mounds to devour their inhabitants, using their long and slimy 60 cm tongue. However, other insects such as bees, beetles or larvae, which extract from the inside of the trunks that reach with their tongue, or break with their claws are part of their diet.
Incredibly, the anteater moves his tongue up to 150 times per minute, swallowing thousands of ants and can end a colony in moments, to go for the next. However, despite its long and robust coat, the anteater is not totally safe from the bites of its victims, which prevents it, most of the time, to kill the entire anthill.
In its legs, this animal has a 5cm long barb that it uses to defend itself from other predators. This one nails it in its attacker, getting trapped. That way, its predator, when trying to free itself, only manages to make the damage greater, until ending in the fatal outcome of both dead animals, still embraced.
This misnamed bear inhabits humid forests, grasslands, swamps and dry forests, where it preys on its food preferably in open areas. It is guided by its exceptional smell – 40 times more acute than that of humans – since its sight is quite bad, pointing its long mouth towards the ground until it encounters colonies of insects.
Despite its claws, robust fur and heavy appearance, these incredible animals are excellent swimmers, being able to move through long stretches of water and cross entire rivers.
Although it is not considered an animal in danger of extinction, its population has been drastically reduced due to its hunting and the destruction of its habitat, not exceeding 5,000 specimens in the wild.
Formerly, it could be seen from Belize to Argentina, but its indiscriminate hunting and the progressive deterioration of the environment have drastically reduced its population. Some studies indicate that it is already extinct in several countries, however, it can still be seen in the Amazonian area of Ecuador and in other neighboring territories.
In some areas, it is still hunted as food by indigenous people. His hair is used locally as a cure against some diseases such as bronchitis. In addition, it is believed that it would work as a remedy after inhaling smoke and even as a contraceptive.
Another factor of its disappearance is less common but perhaps the most cruel of all: forest fires. As his hair is flammable and his movements are so slow, the anteater has no chance of escaping from these natural disasters, where once again the man involved is seen.
To this is added that, unfortunately, their strange appearance plays against them. For this reason, instead of being appreciated and respected in their habitat, they are hunted as trophies, for zoos or private collections, further decreasing their number.
They are usually solitary animals of diurnal habits, except when their territory is invaded by humans; That is when they prefer to wander at night. Not only does this make them more vulnerable to attacks by predators such as the jaguar or the puma, but there has also been an increase in the mortality of these animals on the roads, and they can be found dead on the roadside.
They are rarely seen interacting with their congeners, except for one season in the year. In the time of heat, these animals seek a partner with whom to procreate, having only one child at a time. After 6 months of gestation, at the birth of her puppy, the mother, unable to take it with her mouth or arms, carries it on her back for about a year, staying with her for another year.
Baby anteaters emit a squeak during this time, telling their mother that it is time to feed. The rest of the communication during this stage is silent. The young anteaters leave their mother when she is pregnant again, reaching sexual maturity around 3 years old and starting her own family.
Anteaters are one of the most sought after animals by tourists during tours of the Amazon. Be part of the activities offered by Napo Wildlife Center, such as hiking wildlife observation, where you can go in search of these unique animals, discovering other unusual creatures that hide on the banks of the Napo River. Help us to care for and protect these creatures, through sustainable eco-tourism!