Silky Anteater

Photo Credit: Dee Anderson

Photo Credit: Dee Anderson

The Silky Anteater, also commonly known as the Pygmy Anteater, is the smallest of the four anteater species at a maximum of 9 inches long and 17 ounces in weight. This diminutive anteater is found throughout Central and northern South America living in the lower canopy of tropical rain forests, rarely descending to the ground. In particular, the Silky Anteater is found in the Ceiba (Silk-Cotton) tree, where its cream-colored fur provides excellent camouflage against the clusters of silky fibers that this tree produces.

The Silky Anteater uses its prehensile tail and a specialized joint in the hind feet to move through the treetops with ease, foraging at night for ants and termites. A long tongue covered in spines and a special, sticky saliva, along with two long, curved front claws for ripping into nests, assist the anteater in consuming as many as 8,000 ants in a single night. If ants are unavailable, the Silky Anteater will eat other insects and, on occasion, fruit. Due to so little of their time being spent on the forest floor, the main source of water for the Silky Anteater is the dew or rain that they lick from leaves.

Both the mother and the father Silky Anteater assist in caring for a single offspring, feeding it regurgitated insects until it is able to forage on its own, and the father may occasionally carry the baby on his back. Outside of breeding season or rearing young, the Silky Anteater is typically solitary, sometimes living in mother-offspring pairs.

Highly adapted for a life in the trees, the Silky Anteater’s large front claws make walking on the ground difficult. If forced to make forays onto the forest floor, the Silky Anteater will turn its claws inward, walking on the sides of its front feet.

If it feels threatened, the Silky Anteater will grasp a branch with its tail and hind limbs, rise into a standing posture, and hold its front limbs before its face. From this position, the Silky Anteater will “box,” punching powerfully with its heavy claws. This defensive behavior can be observed in this video.

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