A male Giant Anteater, named Demetrio, was born on April 6 at the Nashville Zoo. The pup weighed in at 3.8 lbs. and is currently being raised by his mother in the Zoo’s off-exhibit facility.
This is the second pup for this mother, and the 17th successful Giant Anteater birth at Nashville Zoo, since they acquired this species in 2000.
There are a total of 111 Giant Anteaters housed in Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) zoos across the country. Giant anteaters are listed as “Vulnerable” on the ICUN Red List, with the population declining 30% over the past 10 years due to habitat loss and deaths by fire and vehicular traffic.
The Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), also known as the Ant Bear, is a large insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America. It is one of four living species of anteaters and is classified with sloths in the order Pilosa. The species is mostly terrestrial. The giant anteater is the largest of its family, 182–217 cm (5.97–7.12 ft.) in length, with weights of 33–41 kg (73–90 lb.) for males and 27–39 kg (60–86 lb.) for females. It is recognizable by its elongated snout, bushy tail, long fore claws, and distinctively colored pelage.
The Giant Anteater can be found in multiple habitats, including grassland and rainforest. It forages in open areas and rests in more forested habitats. It feeds primarily on ants and termites, using its fore claws to dig them up and its long, sticky tongue to collect them.
Though Giant Anteaters live in overlapping home ranges, they are mostly solitary except during mother-offspring relationships, aggressive interactions between males, and when mating. Mother anteaters carry their offspring on their backs until weaning them.
Giant anteaters can mate throughout the year. A couple may stay together for up to three days and mate several times during that period. Gestation lasts around 190 days and ends with the birth of a single pup, which typically weighs around 1.4 kg (3.1 lb.). Females give birth standing upright.
Pups are born with eyes closed and begin to open them after six days. The mother carries the pup on her back, and while doing so, the pup's black and white band aligns with its mother's stripe, providing an amazing camouflage for the baby.
The young communicate with their mothers with sharp whistles and use their tongues during nursing. After three months, the pup begins to eat solid food and is fully weaned by ten months. The mother grooms her offspring during rest periods lasting up to an hour. Grooming peaks during the first three months and declines as the young reaches nine months of age, ending by ten months, when young anteaters usually become independent.
Not only does the Nashville Zoo have success breeding these animals, but the facility is currently involved in numerous projects that include monitoring reproductive status in female Giant Anteaters by fecal hormone analysis, performing ultra-sonographic exams to monitor fetal development, and undertaking intensive diet studies. Nashville Zoo is currently writing the AZA’s husbandry manual for this species.