Anteaters, Sloths and Armadillos are of the same family. A Bizarre group of animals make up the order of mammals known as the EDENTATES. They include the anteaters, armadillos and sloths, all of which, except the nine – banded armadillo, live in the tropical regions of South America and Central America. The name edentate means without teeth. But it is misleading term, as only the anteaters are toothless. In fact, some armadillos have more teeth tan any other land animals.
Of the 21 species of armadillo, the largest is the giant armadillo which is 91.5 cm (3 ft) in length. It has up to 100 peg-like - twice as many as most mammals – which are shed when the animal reaches adulthood. The smallest species, the fairy armadillo, is less than 15cm (6 in) long. Armadillos give birth to up to four young. The nine – banded armadillo, from North America, gives birth to quadruplets of the same sex.
Armadillos are encased in Body Amour formed by separate plates made of bone. Soft skin links the plates together giving them flexibility. In most species the plates cover only the upper part of the body. If threatened, some species, such as the three banded armadillo, roll into a ball while others make for their burrow or dig themselves into the ground.
Armadillos have large curved claws. They use them to dig into the ground to make burrows, to escape predators and to find food. The giant Armadillo’s middle claw is the largest claw in the animal kingdom, measuring 18 cm (7 in) around the curve.
There are four species of anteater. The giant anteater lives in grasslands. The other three species live in forests and have prehensile (grasping) tails with which they hang from trees. Anteaters have long snouts and tongues to enable them to collect the termites and ants on which they feed. They locate the prey with their acute sense of smell. Their fore claws are so large that they need to walk of their knuckles. The claws are used to break upon termite nests and for defense. If threatened, they rear up on their hind legs and try to rip their opponent with their claws.
A female’s ante aster gives birth to a single young. The young anteater travels on its mother’s back for the first year of its life, by which time it is almost half the size of its mothers.
Scientific Name: Myrmecophaga Tridactyla Order: Edentata Family: Mytmecophagidae Distribution: South America Habitat: Grasslands and Savannahs Diet: Termites, Ants and Larvae Size: Length including tail – 1.83 m (6 ft) Lifespan: 25 years (in captivity)
Adapted to living upside down, sloths hang by their claws from the branches of trees. They can rotate their heads through a 270 degree angle, allowing them to keep their head upright while their body remains inverted. They eat, mate, give birth and spend their entire life – cycle upside down. Sloth’s hair lies in the opposite direction from other animals’ to allow rain to run off. Only when asleep do they adopt a more normal position, by squatting in the fork of a tree. There are seven species of sloth. All are herbivorous.
Sloths are very slow movers. They rarely descent to the ground as they can only just stand, but cannot walk. They drag themselves along with their claws. In water though, they are good swimmers.
Due to the high humidity levels in the rainforest, infestations of green algae grow within a sloth’s fur and cover its coat. This acts as a camouflage and makes the sloth less conspicuous. As the seasons change, the algae change color to match the color of the trees.
There are seven species of pangolin or scaly anteater. They have much in common with the Edentates, but they belong to a different order called the Pholidota. They are covered with scales attached to the skin. Some species have a long, prehensile tail that is used to grasp branches and also to lash out at predators. They feed on termites, ants and larvae which they catch with their long tongues.