Range:

Honduras in Central America to Gran Chaco region of Bolivia in South America

Habitat:

Tropical and dry forests, savannas, and grasslands

Looks can be deceiving

Its name is a hint to one of its favorite foods, and you can't miss its long snout, but there's more to the story of the giant anteater! This unique animal is the largest of the three anteater species (the other two are the tamandua or lesser anteater and the silky anteater). The giant anteater is about the size of a golden retriever, but thick, bushy hair makes it look even bigger.

The anteater's gray hair feels like straw and grows especially long on the tail (up to 16 inches or 40 centimeters), and it sports a stylish stripe of black that stretches from under the nose to the middle of the back. This stripe is outlined in white, tan, or gray and goes down to a black ring around the base of the front feet. The hairy, bushy tail is often used as a blanket or sunshade. The giant anteater’s elongated head and nose are perfectly designed to get in and out of a termite mound or anthill.

Do the shuffle

Giant anteaters walk with a slow shuffle on all four legs with their nose pointed to the ground. They don’t walk on their feet; instead, with the claws curled up into the feet, anteaters walk on their "fists." This helps to keep the claws sharp so anteaters can dig into ant mounds or defend themselves from predators. Anteaters are also good swimmers, using the freestyle stroke and with their long snout as a snorkel.

The giant anteater's species name, “tridactyla,” means "three fingers." The anteater has five digits on each foot, but the middle three digits of the front feet have extra-long claws.
The giant anteater has the longest tongue in relation to its body size of any mammal.
That long tail comes in handy. The giant anteater can use it like a bicycle kickstand to balance when standing on two legs.
Giant anteaters can fend off or even kill their main predators, big cats such as jaguars and mountain lions.
The giant anteater's sense of smell is 40 times more powerful than ours.
A giant anteater is not immune to ant bites, so it feeds at an ant or termite colony for just a minute or so before moving on.
Giant anteaters have one of the lowest body temperatures for a mammal, 91 degree Fahrenheit (32.7 degrees Celsius), presumably in response to their low-calorie insect diet.

The San Diego Zoo’s first anteaters arrived from Paraguay in 1937, and we’ve had them on and off over the years since. We welcomed the first birth of a baby giant anteater at our zoo in 1980.

Today, the Zoo is home to two giant anteaters, Lucy and Kane. They were part of a group of 14 giant anteaters imported from Paraguay in 2002 by the Nashville Zoo. Although male giant anteaters are larger than the females, when they arrived in San Diego in 2003, we discovered that Lucy outweighed Kane by 25 pounds (11 kilograms)! Lucy would not cooperate with Kane during breeding attempts; instead, she would just push him over. Hoping for a baby and noting Lucy’s calm disposition around her keepers, she was trained for ultrasound procedures to detect a pregnancy. Kane finally prevailed, and in 2006, their first offspring together was born.

Kane now lives in the Zoo’s Africa Rocks, Lucy shares an exhibit with two maned wolves, which are also from South America’s grasslands, in the Northern Frontier. She spends the morning sleeping in her den but comes out in the early afternoon during the maned wolf keeper talk.

Giant anteaters are not endangered yet, but they have already disappeared from much of their habitat due to habitat loss, especially from fires in grassland regions, and hunting, both for food and as pests. Vehicles often hit the animals while they lumber across a road, and they also get killed by pet dogs. It is estimated that only 5,000 giant anteaters are left in the wild, while a small number (around 90) live in zoos in the US.

Giant anteaters have been around for 25 million years, and we hope that they can nose their way into the next million. You can help us bring other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.