The world's smallest anteater isn't afraid to put up a fight

The world’s smallest anteater isn’t afraid to put up a fight. When threatened, the silky anteater anchors its tail to a branch, raises its claws to its face like a boxer, and strikes. Yet with an average weight of less than a pound, its best chance for survival is to remain undetected.

© PETE OXFORD/NATUREPL.COM Small anteater standing on back legs with front legs in air


Cyclopes didactylus

RANGE Southern Mexico to Brazil
SIZE 12"–17" long
DIET Ants—as many as 5,000 a day
HABITAT Rain forest
THREATS Loss of habitat due to deforestation

  1. CLAWS Large, curved claws on each front foot enable the animal to climb trees and rip open ant nests.
  2. TAIL The anteater’s tail is longer than its body; it’s also prehensile, meaning it can hold on to things.
  3. TONGUE Its sticky, spaghetti noodle-like tongue is designed to slurp up ants. And like all anteaters, the silky lacks teeth.
  4. NOSE A supersensitive, pink-tipped proboscis sniffs out food.
  5. COAT Thanks to its soft fur, the anteater resembles the seedpods of the silk-cotton tree when it curls into a ball—helping it avoid detection by predators like the harpy eagle.


The silky anteater is nocturnal and arboreal: It lives its life in the treetops, almost never descending to the ground. Seldom seen, it is the world’s least-studied anteater.


Scientists once thought all silky anteaters were a single species but now believe there are seven or more distinct species. Differences in fur color tipped them off; researchers confirmed the theory using DNA samples from live anteaters and by studying museum specimens.

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