Myrmecophaga tridactyla


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Giant Anteater
Spanish Hormiguero Gigante, Oso Caballo, Oso Hormiguero, Oso Palmero
French Tamanoir, Grand Fourmilier
Taxonomic Notes: Three subspecies are recognized by Gardner (2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2c ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-11-06
Assessor(s): Miranda, F., Bertassoni, A. & Abba, A.M.
Reviewer(s): Superina, M.
Contributor(s): Rojano, C. & González-Maya, J.F.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Abba, A.M.
Myrmecophaga tridactyla is widespread geographically, but there have been many records of population extirpation, especially in Central America (where it is considered the most threatened mammal) and the southern parts of its range. The dietary specificity, low reproductive rates, large body size, along with threats to habitat degradation in many parts of its range, have proved to be significant factors in its decline. The giant anteater is currently listed in a threat category in virtually all regional and national Red Lists. A population loss of at least 30% over the past 10 years has been estimated based on local extinctions, habitat loss, and deaths caused by fires and road kills. Based on this decline and past threats that are still ongoing today, it is likely that the population has suffered an overall reduction in population size of >30% over the last three generations (suspected to be around 21 years). Because of the real threats to this species and the noticeable declines, a precautionary assessment of Vulnerable is given. More data and population monitoring are required for this species, and a reassessment is recommended as soon as additional information becomes available.
2010 Vulnerable
2006 Near Threatened
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Myrmecophaga tridactyla has been recorded from Honduras in Central America, south through South America to the Gran Chaco region of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. Within Central America, the species has disappeared from much of its range, with recent sightings generally confined to highland regions. The giant anteater is considered the most threatened mammal of Central America; it seems to be extinct in Belize and Guatemala, and has disappeared from parts of Costa Rica. It is not listed in Owen and Girón's (2002) checklist of mammals of El Salvador. In South America, this species seems to be extinct in Uruguay (Fallabrino and Castiñeira 2006) and in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil (Cherem et al. 2004). It is listed as Regionally Extinct in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro (Bergallo et al. 2000) and Espírito Santo (Chiarello et al. 2007). It is classified as Critically Endangered in Paraná (Mikich and Bérnils 2004) and in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (Fontana et al. 2003) but will be categorized as Extinct in the next update of this state's Red List (C. Kasper pers. comm. 2009). Its presence in Ecuador west of the Andes needs to be confirmed.
Argentina (Chaco, Córdoba - Possibly Extinct, Corrientes, Entre Ríos - Possibly Extinct, Formosa, Jujuy, Misiones, Salta, Santa Fé, Santiago del Estero, Tucumán); Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Brazil (Acre, Alagoas, Amapá, Amazonas, Bahia, Ceará, Espírito Santo - Possibly Extinct, Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraíba, Paraná, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio de Janeiro - Possibly Extinct, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul - Possibly Extinct, Rondônia, Roraima, Santa Catarina - Possibly Extinct, São Paulo, Sergipe, Tocantins); Colombia (Colombia (mainland)); Costa Rica (Costa Rica (mainland)); Ecuador (Ecuador (mainland)); French Guiana; Guyana; Honduras (Honduras (mainland)); Nicaragua (Nicaragua (mainland)); Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of (Venezuela (mainland))
Possibly extinct:
Belize; El Salvador; Guatemala; Uruguay
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Myrmecophaga tridactyla is locally uncommon to rare. Habitat loss, roadkills, hunting, and wildfires have been substantially affecting the populations over the past 10 years, and there have been many records of population extirpation, especially in Central America and in the southern parts of its range.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This terrestrial anteater is found in tropical moist forest, dry forest, savanna habitats and open grasslands; it has also been reported from the Gran Chaco (Meritt 2008, Noss et al. 2008) and timber plantations (Kreutz et al. 2013). Recent camera trap data suggest that the species may be more abundant in areas of upland forest in the Brazilian Amazon than previously thought (F. Miranda pers. comm. 2013). Giant anteaters require large areas for their survival, which should contain forested patches.

Animals are generally solitary. Once per year, the female gives birth to a single young. Gestation length is 171 to 184 days (Bartmann 1983, Patzl et al. 1998, Knott et al. 2013). The mother carries the offspring on its back for approximately six months. Data from captive animals in European zoos show several females reproducing for the first time at 18-22 months, and the oldest known reproductive captive dams were 20-24 years old (unpublished report provided by I. Schappert). For wild females, sexual maturity is usually indicated as being around 2 years however, as it is not possible to determine their age once they reach adult size and long-term population studies on giant anteaters are lacking, there are no data on the longevity, survival rates, or reproductive rates of wild giant anteaters.
The generation length of M. tridactyla in the wild is therefore unknown, but it is suspected to be around 7 years
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: In some areas, giant anteaters are hunted for food; this is especially true in the Caatinga area of Brazil. Their skin is used to manufacture harnesses and other leather products, as well as for medicinal use (Ferreira et al. 2013).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Myrmecophaga tridactyla is at risk from habitat loss in parts of its range, and this is a significant threat to Central American populations in particular. Where this species inhabits grassland habitats it is particularly susceptible to fires. In Brazil, burning of sugar cane plantations prior to their harvest leads to the death of significant numbers of giant anteaters due to severe burn injuries (F. Miranda pers. comm. 2013). Animals are sometimes killed on roads or by dogs. Giant anteaters are hunted for food throughout their distribution, and are additionally hunted as a pest, for pets or for illegal trade in some parts of their range.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Myrmecophaga tridactyla is listed on Appendix II of CITES. It has been recorded from many protected areas. It is listed on several national Red Data lists, and is protected as a national heritage species in some provinces in Argentina. There is a need to improve fire management practices, especially in sugarcane plantations and within the regions of grassland habitat occupied by this species. Population and genetic data, as well as habitat use information, are needed, especially for areas that are being subjected to land use change.
A reintroduction program is being carried out in Corrientes province, Argentina.

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Citation: Miranda, F., Bertassoni, A. & Abba, A.M. 2014. Myrmecophaga tridactyla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 02 September 2015.
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