He doesn’t have teeth, but he’s got a bushy tail, a 2-foot-long tongue, and a voracious appetite for insects — up to 35,000 termites and ants per day, to be exact.
Anton, the Greenville Zoo’s newest resident, is arguably one of the strangest animals on the planet. But he’s quickly becoming a favorite among local crowds.
The 4-year-old giant anteater recently made his debut in the zoo’s South American Pampas exhibit. He was transferred from the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, in late October as a recommendation by the Giant Anteater Species Survival Program, according to Greenville Zoo administrator Jeff Bullock.
The purpose of the program is to ensure the survival of threatened or endangered species by monitoring captive populations and making breeding recommendations based on genetic variability and spaces available at other accredited institutions, Bullock said.
He added that Anton replaces Mo, a 7-year-old male giant anteater who was transferred to the Greenville Zoo in 2014 and recently sent to the Roger Williams Park Zoo as part of the Species Survival Program to breed with Delilah, a 4-year-old female.
“Anton is a great addition to the collection and seems to be a lot more active than Mo,” Bullock said. “The staff is excited about the training opportunities and hoping to be able to add educational demonstrations with him in the upcoming year.”
Bullock said zoo visitors have the best chances of seeing Anton between midmorning and early afternoon. He shares the South American Pampas exhibit with Scoops and Penelope, a pair of greater rheas sent to Greenville from the Queens Zoo in New York in 2014.
Giant anteaters, also known as “ant bears,” are the largest of the four anteater species and are native to Central and South America, according to the Greenville Zoo.
The animals have a sense of smell that is 40 times more powerful than a human’s to help them locate ants and termites. During feeding, they rip open the tops of anthills or termite mounds with their 4-inch-long claws and flick their tongues 150 to 160 times a minute.
Since they don’t have teeth, giant anteaters use their tongues, which are covered in tiny spines and sticky saliva, to crush the insects against the roof of their mouths.
The animals also boast thick, gray hair that grows especially long on their tails, with a stripe of black outlined in white to a grayish color that stretches from under their considerable noses to the middle of their backs.
Giant anteaters are considered a vulnerable species in their native habitat of Honduras, Brazil, and northern Argentina.
The species’ population is declining due to a number of factors, including habitat loss from urban development and farmland, hunting for meat and leather, wildfires, and roadway accidents, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Researchers estimate that about 5,000 giant anteaters remain in the wild today. One hundred seventeen giant anteaters are being cared for in 56 accredited North American zoos. Conservation actions are considered important for their survival.
The Greenville Zoo, in partnership with ScanSource and the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona, recently worked with a field biologist studying giant anteaters to create a digital audiobook in Portuguese for schoolchildren in Brazil to educate them about the anteaters and what they can do to help preserve them in their region.
Bullock said the zoo eventually hopes to import a female giant anteater to Greenville through the Species Survival Program to breed with Anton.
For more information, visit www.greenvillezoo.com.