Road Accidents Among Reasons Giant South American Anteaters Are Facing Potential Extinction

Recently we shared the good news. An ant-eating aardvark was saved by a timely blood transfusion organized by two Ohio zoos.

Today we share more troubling news. Giant South American anteaters are facing possible extinction. One of the reasons is traffic fatalities. That is a subject we have covered repeatedly.

photo of giant anteater
Walking on its knuckles, snout to the ground, the giant anteater sniffs out ants with a sense of smell 40 times greater than ours. Photo by Sean P. Twomey on

The anteaters (Myrmyecophaga trydactyla) reportedly are decreasing in number and may only number about 5,000 in the wild.

The San Diego Zoo says they range from Honduras to Bolivia and are perfectly suited to an ant-eating life. With 12,000 species of ants to choose from perhaps it is like a human wandering the aisles of a grocery store.

According to the zoo:

“Giant anteaters are not endangered yet, but they have already disappeared from much of their habitat due to habitat loss, especially from fires in grassland regions, and hunting, both for food and as pests. Vehicles often hit the animals while they lumber across a road, and they also get killed by pet dogs. It is estimated that only 5,000 giant anteaters are left in the wilderness, while a small number (around 90) live in zoos in the US. 

Giant anteaters have been around for 25 million years, and we hope that they can nose their way into the next million. By supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, you are our ally in saving and protecting wildlife worldwide. “

aerial shot of highway
Traffic is increasing world wide. It is dangerous for all life. Photo by Mudassir Ali on

The zoo is apparently more hopeful about the future than some organizations who fear more imminent extinction.

The giants are the largest of four anteater species and feed almost exclusively on ants and termites. They will lick at fruit and eat grubs of other insects. But like aardvarks their main diet is about 30,000 ants or termites a day.

The zoo says they are the size of a golden retriever. Anteaters have sharp claws, but walk with the claws curled under. Walking on heir “fists” This allows them to keep the claws sharp. Claws are used to defend themselves and tear into insect mounds. Giants have a long, thin sticky tongue. The creatures rip into the mound and then zip the tongue into the opening about 150 times a minute. Each zip brings back a slew of worker ants. Anteaters T crush the ants in their mouth. Anteater stomachs are also adapted to an insect diet. Apparently because of their insect diet they have low body temperatures. Their body temperature is about 91 compared to about 98 for humans and about 100 for pet cats.

It is interesting to note that they stay at one nest about a minute and move on. Evidently they prefer to let their victims reproduce rather than eat a whole colony. It is also true that the ants bite and the anteater is not immune to the ant’s acid, or venom in some species, so it has incentive to move on quickly.

The number of road deaths is very high. According to Anteaters and Highways, the risk is increasing.

“The grasslands and forests of Brazil’s Cerrado biome support some of the largest remaining populations of Giant anteaters. But today the Cerrado is undergoing rapid agricultural development and is fragmented by an ever-increasing network of roads. Shockingly, Giant anteaters are among the animals most frequently killed on these roads, and road mortalities now pose a serious threat to species’ long-term survival.”

selective focus photography of brown buck on grass field
Deer (family Cervidae) may be the most impacted by traffic accidents. Some estimates claim more than 1 million US accidents a year, with 400 humans killed and a a 10 billion dollar price tag.. Most of the deer die too. Photo by Steve on

Anteaters and Highways is a four year scientific study of the interaction of the animals and their interaction with roads and cars, The United States and other countries are also working to eliminate road deaths for animals. The entire purpose of the Liberty Canyon overcrossing is to provide a safe overcrossing for wildlife. It is part of a major effort by CalTrans and other agencies to end traffic deaths. Deer are also heavily impacted by traffic.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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