Discover the Mysterious Silky Anteater: Everything To Know About This Small and Slow Creature

The hairy, forest-dwelling mammal of the Neotropics is called the silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), sometimes referred to as the pygmy anteater or the two-toed anteater. The term “two-toed circle-foot” in its scientific name refers to the two huge claws on each front foot that give the impression of encircling the limb the animal is clinging to. Of all the American anteaters, it is the smallest and most enigmatic; not much is still understood about their fundamental biology and ecology. Continue reading to learn more about these adorable animals!

How Are Silky Anteaters Classified?

The main extant relatives of the silky anteater are the gigantic anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the northern and southern tamanduas (Tamandua mexicana and Tamandua tetradactyla), and other anteaters in the suborder Vermilingua (meaning “worm tongue”). The silken anteater is the sole surviving member of the sibling family Cyclopedidae, which is named for the “circle foot,” whereas the other creatures are included under the Myrmecophagidae (literally, “ant eater”). Palaeomyrmidon incomtus is the only other extinct species from this family that is known to exist. It existed in Argentina between 7 and 9 million years ago during the Late Miocene.

The silky anteater has long been regarded by scientists as a single species comprising seven subspecies. On the other hand, a thorough investigation conducted in 2017 suggests that silky anteaters ought to be classified as at least seven distinct species due to variations in genetics, anatomy, and geographic distribution. These species are listed in the next section.

Where Do Silky Anteaters Live?

The island of Trinidad, as well as southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America are home to silky anteaters. The Atlantic Forest on Brazil’s eastern coast is home to a disjunct population as well. Below are the ranges of the seven suggested species:

Cyclopes catellus – Bolivia

C. didactylus: the Atlantic Forest, Trinidad, eastern Venezuela, the Guyanas, and northern Brazil

C. dorsalis: southern Mexico, western Ecuador, and the southwest to northern Colombia, Central America

C. ida: Peru, eastern Ecuador, eastern Colombia, and western Brazil

C. rufus – Rondônia, Brazil

C. Thomasi: Extremely western Brazil and central Peru (Acre)

C. xinguensis: Brazil, below the Amazon River, between the Madeira and Xingu Rivers

From sea level to 1,500 m (4,900 ft), silky anteaters live in a range of forest types, including semi-deciduous, evergreen, tropical, moist lowland, gallery, mangrove, and secondary forests. They like places where the canopy is continuous, allowing them to travel around without having to go below the trees. Male home ranges are larger and overlap with several female home ranges.

What Do Silky Anteaters Look Like?

The smallest anteaters that are still alive are called silky anteaters. The tail grows to be 17–24 cm (6.7–9.4 in) long, accounting for more than half of the adult’s total length of just 36–45 cm (14–18 in). They only weigh between 175 and 400 g, or 6.2 and 14.1 oz.

Their rich, velvety fur has earned them the nickname “silky anteaters.” Typically, this hair has a silvery sheen and is yellowish in color. Smaller differences, such as a darker streak down the front or back or paler limbs or undersides, may exist among many species and subspecies, nevertheless. Excellent camouflage is provided by the silky anteater’s fur, which resembles the fibers of the huge seed pods of the silk cotton trees (Ceiba sp.) that they frequently dwell.

Each of the forefoot’s two huge clawed toes on silky anteaters’ hindfeet has four clawed toes, which are similarly significantly adapted for climbing. Their feet have reddish, hairless soles.

Silky anteaters are edentate, or toothless, just like other anteaters. Rather, they consume using their lengthy, sticky tongues. They also have two enormous black eyes that are designed to see in the dark.

Silky Anteater Behavior

Silky anteaters are arboreal, nocturnal creatures. These languid beings spend their days sleeping coiled up amid vines or tree branches and their nights searching for food. They hardly ever, if ever, come down to the ground and live virtually their whole lives in the forest canopy. Aside from parents of little children, adults are typically solitary.

The silky anteater uses its strong front claws to protect itself, just like other anteaters do. When threatened, it will quickly bring its forefeet close to its face and rear up on its hind legs, using its prehensile tail to help if it is perched on a tree branch. It will then hit anything that gets too close.

What Do Silky Anteaters Eat?

Silky anteaters are insectivores, as their name implies, and they really enjoy eating ants! They can eat between 700 and 5,000 ants in a single night. Apart from consuming ant nests, they also target wasp and termite nests. They may consume little beetles as well.

Silky Anteater Predators

Large local birds of prey, such as spectacled owls (Pulsatrix perspicillata), hawk-eagles (Spizaetus sp.), and harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja), hunt silky anteaters. Humans do not hunt them for food. They are reportedly occasionally caught for the local pet trade, though.

Lifespan and Reproduction of Silky Anteaters

The mating habits of silky anteaters remain largely unknown. After a 120–150 day pregnancy, females give birth to a single pup in September or October. The female may give birth to a second youngster at a different time of year, according to some reports. The young resemble miniature replicas of their parents at birth and are fully furred. The mother gives the newborn milk, and as the child grows, both parents feed it regurgitated insects as part of their shared parenting duties. While the parents go out to feed, the young are left in a nest of dead leaves in a tree hole for up to eight hours each night.

It is estimated that silky anteaters only live for two years in the wild.

Conservation of Silky Anteaters

The silky anteater is still classified as a single species and is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. The rationale behind this evaluation is “its extensive range, assumed substantial population, presence in several protected areas, ability to tolerate some degree of habitat alteration, and the likelihood that it won’t be diminishing quickly enough to warrant inclusion in a more endangered classification.” Deforestation is the primary danger to the species.

For the isolated northeastern Brazil subpopulation, which is now classified as Data Deficient, they do, however, have a distinct entry. The spread of sugar cane plantations has caused this subpopulation to lose its habitat in the Atlantic Forest at a particularly rapid rate, according to the IUCN, making it “highly probable” that this population should be listed as threatened. However, “field studies are urgently needed…to obtain sufficient information for an appropriate assessment of its conservation status.”

Planning for conservation of silky anteaters is challenging since they are uncommon in captivity and their status as a little understood species in the wild. The fact that we are unsure of the precise number of species doesn’t help either. There’s so much more to discover about these adorable, insect-eating, tree-dwelling furballs of the Neotropics!