The largest of the anteater species, this animal has quite small eyes and extremely long, sticky tongue. The fur of the Giant anteater is long, shaggy on its under parts and coarse on its upper parts. This anteater has long, bushy tail and short, strong legs. The head of the Giant anteater is narrow and long, having a small, black snout on the end. The animal has 5 digits on each foot with large, sharp claws on the 3 middle digits of the front paws. The fur of the anteater is usually greyish or brown. In addition, the animal has black and white diagonal markings, covering its shoulders.
Area of their distribution covers Central and South America, stretching from Belize and Guatemala to northern parts of Argentina. Giant anteaters are found in a wide variety of habitats such as forests, grasslands and swampy areas. They prefer to sleep in sheltered, covered areas.
Normally, Giant anteaters are diurnal animals. However, they can become nocturnal during specific weather conditions or living nearby human settlements. They usually sleep in abandoned burrows, hollows in the ground or areas with dense vegetation. Giant anteaters are solitary animals, except with mothers and their young. They are wandering animals, frequently moving from one spot to another. When they encounter each other in the wild, they can ignore each other, run away or even display agonistic behavior. They use their forelimbs to fight, standing in a bipedal position and using the tail to keep balance. In spite of being terrestrial animal, the Giant anteater is an excellent swimmer. Also, though they don't tend to climb in the wild, they occasionally try to climb out of enclosures in captivity.
They have polygynous mating system, where one male mates with more than one female. Breeding depends on region; they can breed either throughout the year or seasonally. Usually, the male and the female mate several times, remaining together for up to 3 days. Gestation period lasts 6 months, yielding a single baby. The pup is born with its full fur and markings, being fed from the mammary glands of its mother for about 6 months. Then, for about a year, the infant moves, riding on its mother's back, in spite of being able to gallop slowly. The youngster will stay with its mother for up to 2 years. Finally, at the time when the female becomes pregnant again, the pup leaves to begin its own life. Sexual maturity is reached at 2-4 years old.
Threats to these animals' population are many. Thus, in some areas of their range, Giant anteaters are hunted for food, persecuted as pests as well as captured for as pets or for illegal trade. In some regions, especially in Central America, the Giant anteater is threatened with loss of habitat. On the other hand, living in grasslands, this animal is threatened by fires. In Brazil, for example, burning of sugar cane plantations before their harvest causes serious burn injuries among Giant anteaters, leading to huge numbers of death. In addition, the Giant anteater is frequently killed by dogs or on roads.
The exact number of their population is presently unknown but decreasing. On the IUCN Red List, the Giant anteater is classified as Vulnerable (VU).
These animals are very important for the ecosystem of their habitat. Being specialist predators of certain insect species, they hugely influencelocal insect communities.