The giant anteater of South America is about the size of a German shepherd dog. It is covered with stiff, straw-like hair, which grows up to 40 cm long (16 in.) on the tail. It is a grizzled grey colour with black stripes bordered by white.
As the name suggests, anteaters eat ants. They also eat termites, consuming both in vast quantities, sometimes up to 35 000 insects in a single day. The anteater will rip open a termite hill with large front claws and work its tubular snout into the opening, sticking its long, worm-shaped tongue down into the heart of the colony and trapping the insects on the tongue's sticky coating. The tongue can be extended as much as 61 cm (2 ft.). This is even more impressive when one considers that the whole animal (not counting the tail) is about 1.1 m (3.5 ft.) long.
The mother anteater carries her single offspring on her back for a considerable length of time after it is born, even though the young anteater is capable of a slow gallop four weeks after birth.
Anteaters are generally docile. Their principal enemies are pumas and jaguars. These large predators must be careful in their attacks, however, as an embrace by the anteater's powerful forelimbs can sometimes prove fatal. Nevertheless, survival of the species is threatened. Giant anteaters are hunted in South America for food and for trophy. They are also killed because they are mistakenly believed to kill dogs and cattle, and, perhaps most frequently, because they are easy to kill.