What would it be like if you were named after what you eat most of the time? What would your name be?

Would you be a pizzaeater? How about a chickennuggeteater? We’re sure there would be some peanutbutterandjellyeaters out there, too.

Anteaters — sometimes called “antbears” — are four species of mammals from the suborder Vermilingua. The four species include the Giant Anteater, the Silky Anteater, the Southern Tamandua and the Northern Tamandua.

The Giant Anteater, as you could probably guess, is the largest of these species. It grows to be about eight feet long (including the tail).

The Northern and Southern Tamanduas — sometimes known as “Collared Anteaters” — grow to be about four feet long. The Silky Anteater is the smallest, growing to be only a little over a foot long.

The anteaters’ suborder, Vermilingua, means “worm tongue.” Since anteaters have no teeth, they must use their long tongues to scoop up the ants and termites that make up the majority of their diet.

An anteater’s tongue can flick up to 160 times per minute, helping to lap up as many as 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day!

When hunting for food, anteaters will use their sharp claws to tear open anthills or rotting wood that might contain ants or termites. Since their sight is poor, they use their noses to smell for food.

They then use their long snouts and tongues to scoop up as many ants and termites as possible. Since they don’t have teeth, they can’t chew the insects.

Instead, they swallow them whole. As they eat, they also swallow small pebbles and other debris. These items help them digest the insects by grinding them in the stomach.

In addition to ants and termites, anteaters also eat soft-bodied grubs, soft fruits and birds’ eggs. Anteaters in zoos also eat things like fruits, hard-boiled eggs, ground beef and dog kibble.

If you have much experience with ants, you know that they can sting. Anteaters know this very well.

When ants start to fight back as an anteater is having a meal, the anteater will usually move on to a new location. Instead of destroying a nest of ants, most anteaters prefer to return to feed again in the future.

Anteaters can be found mainly in the tropical forests and grasslands of Central and South America. Giant anteaters usually sleep aboveground, while the other types of anteaters usually live in trees.

Giant anteaters move slowly with a unique shuffle. This is because they walk on their fists (with their claws curled up into their paws) to protect their claws from becoming dulled by the ground. They are also excellent swimmers since they use their long snout like a snorkel.

 

26 Join the Discussion

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    • You’re absolutely right, Julia Renee! Anteaters eat other types of insects (and other foods), too! We thought it was really interesting to learn that anteaters who live in zoos also like to eat things like ground beef and dry dog food! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment today! :-)

  1. Hi Wonderopolis,

    I am not with my third graders because I am working with some great science teachers in Tiburon, CA. The teachers are from all over the United States. I introduced them to your site and they love it. I am so impressed with your work and am excited that more and more students will be discovering you.

    Julie Johnson

    • Hello, Mrs. Johnson! Your comment just made our day! Thank you so much for being an AWESOME ambassador for Wonderopolis and for sharing us with your science-teaching colleagues! We can’t wait to meet all of our new Wonder Friends! :-)

  2. No, because if we would eat watermelons would we be called watermeloneaters? They can eat termites, soft-bobied grubs, soft fruits and birds’ eggs. In the zoo anteaters eat fruits, hard boiled eggs, ground beef, and dog kibble, too.

    • WOW, Kamile! Thank you so much for leaving us this SUPER comment and for letting us know all the great things you learned about anteaters today! We’re so glad you visited this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Hello, Sarah! You’ll have to check back to see if your guess is correct about Wonder of the Day® #393. We think you’re really smart, though, and will be happy to see what the next Wonder will be! :-)

    • Hi, Nicole! Did you know you can suggest an idea for a future Wonder of the Day® whenever one pops into your head? It’s super easy! Just click on the “nominate” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis, answer the questions, then submit your ideas! You just might see YOUR Wonder idea featured as a future Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. If my name was named after a food it would either be a bananaeater or a macaroniandcheeseeater. I thought anteaters only eat ants and termites, not soft-bodied grubs, soft fruits and birds’ eggs. I really learned a lot about anteaters today.

    • Thanks for leaving us this great comment and for letting us know some of the cool things you learned from visiting this Wonder, Asia! We think being a macaroniandcheeseeater or a bananaeater sounds really fun! :-)

  4. Wow, I’m just introduced with your site and i think it’s brilliant… love your feed backs to all the users it gives a very good feeling posting comments here and searching your wonderful contents! By the way, I’m a civil engineer and I appreciate all your works :)

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Khashayar! Thanks for visiting today and for leaving us this AWESOME comment! We’re glad you’re a Wonder Friend! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Moa! We think it’s part instinct, part appetite, and a super sense of smell that helps the anteaters know where the ants and other bugs are! Thanks so much for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hello, Samrox667! Thanks so much for your comment today! We’ve seen some anteaters swim at the zoo, and they’re very good at it! Sometimes, their heads go under the water and only their long noses stick out! We bet it sure helps to have a built-in snorkel when you want to go for a swim! :-)

    • Hi there, Emily! Anteaters don’t use real snorkels, but they use their long noses to help them breathe while they’re swimming! They stick their noses out of the water and up into the air! :-)

  5. Wow, I think that this was a really cool wonder of the day. I had no idea that Anteaters could swim. I didn’t really even know that Anteaters could even touch the water. Two facts that I learned were that the bigger Anteaters sleep above ground and all the other Anteaters sleep below ground. Do the bigger Anteaters just sleep above the ground just because they need more space and light? I also learned that Anteaters can swallow up to 35,000 ants and termites a day. I didn’t know that Anteaters ate that many ants and termites everyday. In my opinion, I think that Anteaters are kind of cute and kind of scary just a little bit. One time, I got to sleep at the zoo. It was a zoo camp in for Indian Princess and we got to see an Anteater. It was kind of creepy because it came quite close to me and I didn’t know what it was going to do. So, I was a little creeped out. Thanks, and I enjoyed this wonder of the day.

    • We think it is REALLY neat that you got to get close to an anteater, Alexandra! What a great adventure you had getting to spend the night at the zoo…it sounds like so much FUN! We appreciate it when our Wonder Friends make personal connections to the Wonders of the Day and share them with us in a comment! Thank you for doing that today! :-)

  6. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Wow, I think that was a really cool wonder of the day. I had no idea that anteaters could swim. I didn’t really even know that anteaters could touch water. I didn’t know that they sleep above ground and all the ants that they ate. I know why people don’t invite anteaters for picnics, because they are disturbing. I think my name would be the pancakeeater. I never knew that anteaters can be called antbears. I never knew there was such thing as a giant anteater, silky anteaters, and collared anteaters. Now I know silky aneaters are the smallest of all. I never knew that vermilingua meant worm tongue. I didn’t know that anteaters didn’t have any teeth. I knew anteaters had sharp claws. This is how you say anteaters in Spanish: osos hormigueros. Thanks for a really good wonder video!

    • Hi, Marco! Thanks for leaving us this comment today…it was AWESOME! We like how you shared all the awesome things you learned about anteaters, and some of the things you already knew before you visited this Wonder. We liked learning how to say “anteater” in different languages, too! Thank you for sharing how to say “anteater” in Spanish! You are a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Thanks so much for stopping by this Wonder and sharing what you know about anteaters, Matt! We appreciate your comment and are glad you’re a Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do anteaters eat only ants?
  • Do anteaters chew ants before they swallow them?
  • Where do anteaters live?

Wonder Gallery

anteater_shutterstock_81890218Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Want to check out anteaters up close and personal? Check out the Anteater webcam from the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark. Check back at different times to catch the anteaters during different parts of their daily routine.

While you’re checking out the anteaters in Europe, you might also want to learn how to say “anteater” in many different languages!

So how do you feel about anteaters? Would you want to have one as a pet? Why or why not?

Do you think it would be gross to eat ants and termites? Does just thinking about it give you a creepy-crawly feeling in your tummy?

If you had to live like an anteater for a day, how might you spice up your diet? What new things would you try?

Can you think of any good ant or termite recipes you’d recommend? How about this fun recipe for chocolate-covered ants?

Get creative and write a short story about what you might eat if you were an anteater for a day. Feel free to draw some pictures to make your story unique.

When you’re finished, share your story with us via email, Facebook or Twitter. We can’t wait to read your story!

 

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Insect Models lesson, kids explore insects by making models of insects of their choice.

 

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