Episode 271 – Giant Anteater: King of the Hill

“…and today we’re talking about a big bushy eyebrow. But more on that later…”

South America is home to a lot of interesting looking animals. Possibly the goofiest one is the giant anteater. With a tube snoot, a bushy tail, and a panda for an arm, the anteater prowls the shrublands looking for, you guessed it, ants. But why does it look like a pool noodle taped to a couple of porcupines? It’s all about having the right tongue for the job here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • The giant anteater is a hairy, bushy eyebrow shaped monster from Where the Wild Things Are.
  • They have long thin faces, short ears, beady little trailer park eyes, and a big wet nose.
  • Anteaters come in black, white and gray coats, with hair hanging down to the ground.
  • The pot an the end of this gray-ainbow is a big bushy tail that’s about as long as their face but in the other direction.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!


  • 182 to 217 cm (5 ft 1112 in to 7 ft 112 in)
  • How many of the largest ants ever discovered go into the giant anteater?
  • Hint: The largest ant ever is an extinct species called Titanomyrma giganteum. The largest living ant is the driver ant, which maxes out at 2 inches.
  • 36 ants. Queens were around 6 centimeters (2.4 in) with a 5 inch wingspan.


  • 33 to 50 kg (73 to 110 lb)
  • How many of the largest meal ever consumed in modern history go into the giant anteater?
  • Hint: The meal was eaten by an unknown 23 year old model and recorded in The Lancet medical journal in 1985. It was said to contain liver, kidneys, steak, eggs, cheese, slices of bread, mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, peaches, pears, apples, bananas, plums, grapes, and two glasses of milk.
  • 5 meals. The meal was 19 lb (8.6 kg).

Fast Facts

Native to central and south America.

Multiple habitats are home to the giant anteater including grasslands and rainforests.

Despite living in overlapping home ranges, giant anteaters are mostly solitary except when taking care of their offspring or mating. 

A mother anteater carries her offspring on her back until they are weaned.

They walk on the knuckles of their forelimbs like an ape. This helps them maintain their long curved claws which they use for digging in a hook-and-pull motion. 

They run a few degrees colder than most mammals and average around 92 degrees fahrenheit. This is due to a slower metabolic rate and a slow, relaxed disposition. 

Major Fact: Tongues

  • Anteaters, as you may have noticed, have a goofy lookin mug
  • Their snoots are long, their lips are small, and their eyes are beady
  • But why do they look like they belong in a cantina on Tatooine?
  • Well it all has to do with their diet….ants and termites
  • But ants live in nests that can sometimes extend 10 or more feet below the surface.
    • Did you know that the average ant nest is 7 feet deep? This is why you can try and kill as many as you can in a mound and they just keep coming.
  • Termites tend to make their nests above ground, but the mud, grit, and spit that makes up the exterior shell can be as hard as stone sometimes. 
    • If only anteaters had Tarzan’s man-smarts to flush those termites out
  • But the anteater doesn’t need the ingenuity of natural European intelligence, it has a nose for these kinds of things.
  • Tracking the pheramones that ants use to get around and communicate, the anteater will saunter from mound to mound absolutely decimating ant populations.
    • I wish I could have one as a pet but my HOA would never allow it. Not to mention my wife… and my dogs. The kids would probably be on board though!
  • Once he finds a nest, he’ll start digging with his sharp claws. 
    • I’ve always wondered how anteaters deal with ant bites, and it turns out the answer is he does just that…deal with it. No fancy immunity or super skin. He’s just like “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us”
  • The bites may hurt, but an anteater can visit up to 200 ant and termite nests in a day, eating 30,000 of Flick’s dearest friends. His cup overfloweth.
  • Each nest takes him about one minute to clear out. So when you break it down, he really only eats about 150 ants per minute and per nest. Give me a minute and some good ol fashioned orkin goodness and I’ll put the anteater to shame.
  • But this is still impressive for a primitive mammal, so how do they do it?
  • Well, it’s all in the tongue, which can get up to two feet long – a little less than a third of its body length
    • It sits in the throat and is held by a special muscle called a palate to stop it from suffocating the anteater
    • It’s tiny mouth has no teeth and its lower jaw is held together by a ligament. 
    • So it can open its mouth hole and let that long sticky tongue come out
    • It doesn’t loll out like unrolling a wet sleeping bag and it doesn’t slither out like a harry potter basalisk moving through suspiciously large sewer pipes.
    • It flicks out… get it?
    • But seriously, it flicks in and out of the anteater’s mouth at 160 times per minute!
      • Which sounds like a lot until you realize it’s just three licks per second. Which is either an impressive guitar feat by Yngwie Malmsteen or an equally impressive feat by a dad that takes “spare the rod, spoil the child” a bit too seriously
    • The tongue is covered in little backward-facing hair-like thingies and sticky saliva. 
    • It flicks out, goes into the ant nest, a bunch of ants get stuck to the saliva, and the anteater sucks its tongue back in covered in ants. 
      • The anteater’s buccinators (muscles in the cheek) let it retract the tongue without scraping off the ants. 
      • When they eat, they swallow constantly. Ants are crushed by the palate before they make their way to the stomach. 
      • The anteater’s stomach has hardened folds that grind up the ants. 
      • The actual digestion is interesting too. Anteaters can’t produce stomach acid to digest, so it swallows sand as it eats to help with digestion. But the real MVP is the formic acid that ants have.

Ending: So protect your tube snoot, keep your buccinators primed, and stick your tongue in interesting places like the giant anteater here in LDT.