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Baby Anteaters at Discovery Cove
There was great excitement at Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida, earlier this year, when a baby lesser anteater, or tamandua, was born. For the first few months of his life he will cling to his mother’s back, until he is able to walk and find food on his own. A previous baby anteater was born in September, 2009 and there were concerns, at first, that her mum, Cypress, was showing little interest in her new offspring. Born by caesarean section, this little baby needed intensive care from staff at Discovery Cove as she needed supplementary bottle feeds every four hours. A baby giant anteater was also born at Busch Gardens, Tampa, weighing about 3 lbs at birth. Like the lesser anteater babies, this little chap will ride on his mother, Adelhi’s back for about four months. In the wild, a mother lesser anteater will place her baby on a safe branch while she looks for food. Baby lesser anteaters are really cute, with long snouts and protruding eyes. Unlike their furry mothers they have very little fur, and are quite wrinkled. Gestation ranges from 130 – 150 days, with babies being born in the springtime.
A native of the forests of Mexico and South America, the lesser anteater is a solitary animal which feeds on ants, bees and termites. Smaller than its relative, the giant anteater, it uses its very strong front claws to break into insect nests or to protect itself. Its long curved nose is ideal for searching for ants as it has a small opening about the diameter of a pencil, from which a long sticky tongue protrudes. This tongue can be up to 40 cm in length, and anteaters can devour anything up to 9, 000 ants in a single day, although it can eat honey or soft juicy fruits, too. They don’t actually chew their food as they don’t have teeth, but their stomach grinds the food after it is swallowed. The lesser anteater can be anything from around 21 inches to 31 inches in length, and its long prehensile tail varies from 16 to 23 inches. It has several uses including being an extra hand or foot when climbing, for balance, as an anchor, or as a comfy pillow when they are sleeping in a hollow tree.
Their fur is blonde, tan or brown, quite coarse, with black markings from shoulder to rump. This rather curly hair helps stop angry ants reaching their skin and biting them when they are eating at an anthill. They have four toes on their front feet with strong claws, including an extra long one on its third digit, and five toes on their hind feet. Because these claws are very sharp they walk on the outsides of their hands to prevent their palms being punctured. They use their powerful front arms in self defense, but they have small eyes and poor vision. However, their large upright ears give them good hearing, and they have a powerful sense of smell which is much better than a human’s. Mainly nocturnal the anteater may rest during the day in hollow tree trunks. It has an unusual way of protecting itself from predators as it smells really bad, rather like a skunk.
Anteaters, and their babies, can be seen at Discovery Cove – don’t miss them!
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