Biodiversity

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

ANTEATING MAMMALS, MARSUPIALS AND MONOTREMES

There are quite a number of mammals that have adapted to eating ants or termites. I will look at each family separately and discuss the adaptations each has made for their special diet.

The order Xenarthra includes the anteaters, sloths and armadillos. (They were previously grouped in the order Edentata along with the pangolins and the aardvark, but since they are not related, they have now been placed in separate orders.) There are four species of anteaters in the family Myrmecophagidae, namely the Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), the Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) and the Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla).(1)

The Silky Anteater is the smallest of all anteaters, only 360-450 millimeters long and weighing less that 500 grams. It lives in lowland rainforests of South America, almost exclusively in trees. Like all anteaters it has a tubular mouth, although not nearly as long as the others. It has a long sticky tongue, with many tiny hooks on and sticky saliva. It flicks its tongue in and out quickly eating mainly tree dwelling ants and termites that get “trapped” on its sticky tongue. They do not have teeth, but rather strong stomach muscles, that contract tightly to help digest its food. They also have two long claws on each front paw, which they use for climbing and defense and a long prehensile tail that aids them in climbing. (2)

The Giant Anteater is the largest of its kind. It inhabits many different habitats from grassland to rainforest in Central and South America. They can reach a length of over two meters and can weigh up to 60 kilograms. They have an exceptionally long nose and tubular mouth, with and even longer sticky tongue, which they use to extract termites out of their nests. They use their long sharp claws and strong forelimbs to break open termite mounds, to get to their food. They do not have any teeth, but again their stomach is adapted to digest its food through strong contractions, aided by little stones they occasionally take in. They also have unusual articulations in the vertebra of their lower back, which provide support when they use their forelegs for digging. They also use there strong claws for defense, by standing on their hind legs, using their tail as a counter-balance and slashing out, even killing predators this way. (3, 4)

The tamanduas are smaller and have an even larger range in habitat. They also climb trees and have a prehensile tail that aids them in climbing and acts as a counter-balance on the ground in much the same way as the Giant Anteater. Their nose is not as long as their giant cousins, but they too have the adapted sticky tongue, that they flick out eating mostly ants and termites. Sometimes they raid bees’ nests eating the larvae and honey. They too have long, strong claws and powerful forelimbs as well as the special joints in their backs that aid them when using their front legs for digging and breaking open termite mounds. (4)

The order Pholidota contains the pangolins or scaly anteaters. There are eight species between Africa and Asia. They all have large plate-like scales, which fit over each other like tiles on a roof. If threatened they roll themselves into a tight ball, their razor sharp scales acting as their defense. They too have a relative long sensitive nose and a very long sticky tongue. There forelimbs are powerful but their claws are so long that they have to walk on their hind legs, using their long tail to balance. But this frees them to use their strong forelimbs to dig and break open termite mounds, much in the same way the American anteaters to. They also hang from branches in trees and use their claws to break away the bark to get to ants nests. They are mainly nocturnal and use their acute sense of smell to find their prey. (5)

The aardvark is of the order Tubulidentata. As the order suggests they do have teeth, but these are unusual. The aardvark is only found in Africa. They are nocturnal, sleeping during the day in excavated termite mounds. They exclusively feed on ants and termites and again have a suitable long sticky tongue. Their head is elongated with a tubular mouth adapted for its habit of eating ants and termites. The nose is a round disk, hence the name aardvark. They have powerful front legs used for digging and a very keen sense of smell to find food. They do not have claws, but rather flattened shovel-like nails. (6)

The numbat ( Myrmecobius fasciatus ) is the only marsupial that almost exclusively feeds on termites. It does not have the powerful forelimbs and long claws of the other anteaters, but it does have a sticky tongue, a degenerate jaw with dysfunctional teeth, a pointed nose and an acute sense of smell. Because it cannot break open the termite mounds, it has to synchronize its feeding time with the activities of the termites. It is thus diurnal and uses its sense of smell to locate the termites’ underground galleries leading to their feeding grounds. These are shallow and the numbat is able to reach them easily, even without having long specialized claws. (7)

The echidnas fall in the order Monotremata. The Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is an ant and termite eater and has all the adaptations for its specialized diet. A long snout and tubular mouth, toothless jaw, long sticky tongue and powerful limbs with long claws for digging. They have coarse hairs and spines and roll up into a spiny ball to protect themselves. (8)


References:

1. Wikipedia contributors. Xenarthra [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Apr 25, 13:28 UTC [cited 2006 May 2]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Xenarthra&oldid=50082389.
2. Wikipedia contributors. Silky Anteater [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Apr 12, 14:53 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Silky_Anteater&oldid=48121629.
3. Wikipedia contributors. Giant Anteater [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Apr 23, 14:22 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Giant_Anteater&oldid=49755422.
BBC editors. Anteaters[Internet]. BBC, Scinece & Nature – Wildfacts; [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/679.shtml
5. Wikipedia contributors. Pangolin [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Apr 18, 15:53 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pangolin&oldid=49016676.
Wikipedia contributors. Aardvark [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 2, 17:54 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Aardvark&oldid=51233429.
7. Wikipedia contributors. Numbat [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 2, 11:03 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Numbat&oldid=51192390.
8. Wikipedia contributors. Echidna [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 1, 17:41 UTC [cited 2006 May 3]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Echidna&oldid=51072093.

Karen Marais
BCB Hons NISL student
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville

E-mail 2657211@uwc.ac.za

Web http://brit-journal.com/karen2006bcbnisl/

12 Comments:

  • Hi Karen

    First off, as always, non-Wiki sources would be cool, and there are some minor typos and grammatical errors that could've been fixed with some editing. More importantly, while you do a good job of covering the adaptations of these anteaters, you don't explain why these adaptations came about (why is a tubular snout, long tongue and odd dental morpology ubiquitous in these orders?). I'd have liked to have seen more reflection on the underlying principles behind the similarities (and even the differences) of anteating mammals.

    Nick

    By Blogger NcK, at May 22, 2006 11:39 AM  

  • Contrary to the previous post, i thought this article was really useful and informative. I am currently doing a university project and need to look at marsupials and non marsupials, which has brought me here so i can learn the basics before getting stuck into the nitty gritty. This is a well laid out article which states the facts so i do further specialist searches to find out more. Thanks for the help!

    By Blogger Shelb, at October 14, 2008 6:18 PM  

  • Whats's Up i'm new to this. I stumbled upon this website I find It amply accessible and its helped me loads. I should be able to give something back and aid other people like it has helped me.

    Cheers, See Ya Later.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 05, 2010 4:42 PM  

  • Greetings i am new to this. I came upon this board I have found It amply accommodating and its helped me out a great deal. I should be able to contribute & aid others like it has helped me.

    Cheers, See You Later

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 07, 2010 8:10 AM  

  • Heya i am new on here. I came upon this site I have found It extremely useful and it's helped me out a great deal. I should be able to give something back & assist other people like it has helped me.

    Thanks a load, See Ya Later.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 15, 2010 12:41 PM  

  • just dropping by to say hi

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 24, 2013 10:25 PM  

  • Can I simply say what a relief to uncover somebody who
    really understands what they're talking about online. You certainly know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people should check this out and understand this side of your story. It's surprising you
    aren't more popular given that you surely possess the gift.

    My site: Sac A Main Louis Vuitton

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 21, 2013 1:47 PM  

  • hey there and thank you for your info – I've definitely picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical points using this site, as I experienced to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I'm adding this
    RSS to my e-mail and can look out for much more
    of your respective intriguing content. Ensure that you update
    this again soon.

    my homepage: Sac a main Guess

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 09, 2013 11:40 AM  

  • hey there and thank you for your information – I have certainly picked up something new from right here.

    I did however expertise several technical issues using this site, as I experienced to reload the website lots of
    times previous to I could get it to load correctly.

    I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your
    placement in google and can damage your high quality score if advertising
    and marketing with Adwords. Well I'm adding this RSS to my email and can look out for much more of your respective intriguing content. Ensure that you update this again very soon.

    my webpage: NFL Cheap Jerseys

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 11, 2013 11:08 PM  

  • Howdy! I know this is sort of off-topic but I had to ask.
    Does operating a well-established website such as yours take a lot of
    work? I'm brand new to writing a blog however I do write in my journal everyday. I'd like to start
    a blog so I can easily share my experience and thoughts online.
    Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips for
    brand new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

    my web blog :: Louis Vuitton Bags

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2013 7:07 AM  

  • I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or blog posts in this sort of
    space . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this website.
    Reading this information So i am happy to convey that I
    have a very excellent uncanny feeling I found out exactly what I needed.
    I most indubitably will make certain to do
    not disregard this site and give it a glance regularly.

    Here is my homepage :: Wholesale Jerseys

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2013 2:13 PM  

  • Wonderful goods from you, man. I have be aware your stuff previous to and you are simply extremely fantastic.
    I really like what you have received right here, really like what you're stating and the way in which wherein you assert it. You make it entertaining and you continue to care for to keep it wise. I cant wait to read much more from you. This is really a great website.

    My website Louis Vuitton Bags Outlet

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 15, 2013 10:09 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home