Behavior

Anteaters are thought to be mostly solitary. The limited number of field studies done indicate that all members of this group will defend their 1-1.5 mi2 (2.6-3.9 km2) territories. Males often enter the territories of associated females but do not enter the territories of other males. Likewise, females do not enter the territories of other females. If a territorial dispute occurs, they will vocalize, swat with the foreclaws and sometimes sit on and even ride the back of a subordinate animal.

A giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) mother and baby in South America. (Photo by Animals Animals ©John Chellman. Reproduced by permission.)

Observations indicate that anteaters have a poor sense of sight, being able to see better the closer they get to the subject. However, their sense of smell is exceptional. Most species depend on smell for direction, foraging, feeding and defense. They are thought to be able to hear very well.

Anteaters are unique in the fact that they have the lowest body temperature of any mammal. Their normal body temperature is also more variable and they can safely tolerate more fluctuation in body temperature than most mammals. The body temperature of a giant anteater fluctuates between 90 and 95°F (33-36°C). There is evidence from field studies that anteaters operate at the minimal energetic requirements for a mammal feeding on insects. In other words, energy consumed from food is only slightly greater than the energy used in everyday activities. It is suspected that anteaters coordinate their body temperatures with respect to activity and energy requirements. They can conserve energy with a lower body temperature during periods of rest; conversely when increased activity levels are needed during periods of foraging or hunting for example, the body temperature increases as a result of this energy requirement.

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