What Ant Eaters Actually Eat
Ant Eaters are a term that is used to refer to four different animals of the same mammal species. These species are commonly known as the Giant Anteater, the Silky Anteater, the Southern Tamandua, and the Northern Tamandua. They belong to the suborder Vermilingua which means “worm tongue.”
Their scientific lineage is to the order Pilosa which they share with similar mammals like the Pangolins, the Numbat, the Echidnas, and the Aardvark. These animals are also informally referred to as Anteaters and are found mostly in the Southern and Central Americas and the southern part of the North American continent.
The animals are thought to be similar due to their similar appearance. All of these have long proboscis or snouts and thin tongues that are longer than the length of their heads. Their mouths have no teeth. Except for the giant anteater, all species have long tails that help balance their bodies. They have elongated claws at the end of their fore paws that they use to break open ant and termite mounds for food.
It makes one wonder hearing the name of the animals, that are ants what anteaters actually eat? Ask a child this question and the prompt answer will definitely be – “Duh! What kind of a question is this? Of Course, anteaters eat ants! Can’t you make out from the name?”
However, when you start a little research on the topic, you will end up surprised like I did. Anteaters definitely eat an ant now and then, but they like to feast on other small insects as well. Their favorite food, surprisingly is not ants, but termites and other soft bodied grubs and mostly insects that do not have any chemical form of defense.
For anteaters like the silky anteater or the tamandua that climb on trees, the main diet is of any kind of insect that lives and thrives on trees and their branches. For the heavier species like the giant anteater or the pangolin, the main source of food is termites and ants.
Their strategy to avoid the stings of the insects that they eat, is to lap up huge numbers together with their long tongues and swallow the food whole. They do this quickly and are said to flick their tongues up to 160 times a minute. They keep licking and keep moving to another area to avoid their food from hurting them!
Their tongue is embedded with multiple hook like organs that help to hold the insects to the saliva. After they swallow the insects, they digest the food with the help of sand and dirt that they eat from time to time to help with the process of digestion.
Research has also shown that different species of anteaters have different preferences of food. Astounding, isn’t it? Just like a person from Mexico loves his tortillas and enchiladas compared to a person from Brazil who cannot do without his feijoada!
The preferences of insects decided by the anteater is according to its own size and the area that it lives around. For example, a smaller species of anteater will usually not eat soldier ants or other insects that can pose a threat to itself. They will tend to eat insects that are less capable of defending themselves. Amazing inbuilt safety mechanism!
The anteaters are also smart eaters. They usually do not destroy the nests of the insects that they forage on, since they keep on returning to the same mound after a period of time when the colony of insects has grown and multiplied with more food. They use their keen sense of smell to find their favorite food and literally gorge on it.
These kind of animals have a very low body temperature and are thought to control the same, keeping it low while they are resting and increasing it while they are feeding. They eat as much as they need to build energy for their daily activities which is mostly foraging for food or occasionally fighting with fellow anteaters to lay claim on a particular area.
Since they eat only tiny insects, they need to eat hundreds and thousands at a single meal to keep them going! What a never-ending circle of building up energy and then using it to find food to build up more energy! What a life!