The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Llama
Story Of The Carpincho
Story Of The Ant-eater
Story Of The Ostrich
Story Of The Lizard
Story Of The Kangaroo
Story Of The Hedgehog.
Story Of The Wild Goat
Story Of The Musquash
Story Of The Wart-hog
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Story Of The Ant Eater
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
As its name imports, the ant-eater lives principally upon ants and termites, or white ants, as they are called, which it takes by thrusting its long, slender tongue among the ants, which adhere to it by a gummy saliva. When the tongue is covered it is rapidly retracted, and the ants swallowed.
Its short legs and long claws would lead an observer to suppose that its pace was slow and constrained; but, when chased, it runs off with a peculiar trot, and with such rapidity that it keeps a horse to its speed to overtake it.
The tongue of this animal looks exactly like a great red worm, and, when the creature is engaged in devouring its food, the rapid coiling and twisting of the tongue add in no small degree to) the resemblance.
The claws are very long and curved, and, as they are used in tearing down the habitation of the termites, are exceedingly strong. They are placed on the foot in such a manner that, when the animal is walking, its weight rests on the outside of the fore-feet and the outer edge of the claws, which make a great clattering if the ant-eater is walking upon a hard surface.
When it sleeps it lies on one side, rolls itself up), so that its snout rests on its breast, places all its feet together, and covers itself with its bushy tail. The fur of the animal at all times resembles hay, and, when it is thus curled up in sleep, it is so exactly like a bundle of hay, that any one might pass it carelessly, imagining it to be nothing but a loose heap of that substance.
A tame ant-eater once in my possession by no means restricted itself to ants, but devoured meat, when minced, with much avidity. The ordinary length of this animal is about four feet and its height about three feet.
Although distributed over the whole of the tropical portions of South and Central America, the great ant-eater is nowhere common; and from its habits of only being abroad at night is but seldom seen. It frequents either the low, wet lands bordering the rivers, or swampy forests; and is strictly a ground animal in its habits. Its strong claws might lead to the supposition that the creature was a burrower, but this is not the case. It has, however, usually a regular lair, or at least a regular place of resort, generally situated among tall grass, where it spends the day in slumber,. lying on one side, with its head buried in the long fur of the chest, the legs folded together, and the huge tail curled round the exposed side of the body. Except in the case of females with young, the ant-eater is, as a rule, a solitary creature. Its usual pace is a kind of trot, but when pursued it breaks into an awkward, shuffling, slow gallop. The food of the great ant-eater consists exclusively of ants, together with their larvae. In order to obtain these insects, the ant-eater tears open their nests or hillocks with the powerful claws of its fore-feet. As soon as the light of day is let into their domicile, the ants rush to the surface in order to investigate the cause of the disturbance, and are forthwith swept up by hundreds, adhering to the sticky tongue of the ant-eater, which is protruded and withdrawn with lightning-like rapidity.
The lesser ant-eater is an animal of scarcely half the size of the greater ant-eater, with a shorter head and longer ears.
The tamandua, which is the Portuguese term for the creature, the native name being caguari, ranges through the tropical forests of South and Central America. It mainly lives in trees, its climbing powers being largely aided by the prehensile tail. It may be sometimes seen abroad (luring the day. Its movements are more rapid than those of the great ant-eater; and when asleep it lies on its belly, with the head bent under the chest and covered with the fore-feet, while the tail is curled along the side. Its food apparently consists mainly of ants probably belonging to tree species but it has been suggested that honey may likewise form a portion of its diet. Like the great ant-eater, it produces only a single young one at a birth.
The third and last representative of the family is no larger than a rat. The length of the head and body is only six inches, and that of the highly prehensile tail a little over seven inches. The fore-feet have four toes, of which those corresponding to the index and third fingers of man alone have claws; the claw of the third toe being very much larger than that of the second. In the hind-feet there are four nearly equal-sized toes, which are placed close together so as to form a hook-like organ somewhat after the fashion of the foot of a sloth. The fur is soft, thick and silky; its color being generally foxy red above and gray beneath, with the individual hairs grayish brown or black at the base, and yellowish brown at the tips. The skull differs from that of the other ant-eaters by its shorter muzzle. The lower jaw is less widely removed from the ordinary type. Another peculiarity in the skeleton is the presence of well-developed collar-bones.
The two-toed ant-eater is an exclusively tree inhabiting animal. It in-habits Northern Brazil, Guiana and Peru, between the tenth parallel of south and the sixth parallel of north latitude, and it also extends into Central America ; its range thus including the very hottest portions of the continent. In the mountains it ascends to an elevation of some two thousand feet above the sea. It is either a rare creature, or one but seldom seen, even by the natives; frequenting the thickest portions of the forests, and escaping observation through its habits and small size. Like its larger relatives, it leads, except during the pairing-season, a solitary existence ; and it . is likewise nocturnal, sleeping during the day among the boughs. Its movements are generally slow and deliberate; but when so disposed, it can climb quickly, always with the aid of the tail. Ants, termites, bees, wasps and their larvae are its food. When it has captured a large insect, it sits up on its haunches like a squirrel, and conveys the prey to its mouth with its paws. I had one of these ant-eaters brought to me which had been captured while slumbering in a hollow tree. I kept it in the house for twenty-four hours, where it remained nearly all the time without motion, except when irritated, in which case it reared itself on its hind-legs from the back of a chair, to which it clung, and clawed out with its fore-paws like a cat. Its manner of clinging with its claws, and the sluggishness of its motions, gave it a great resemblance to a sloth. It uttered no sound, and remained all night on the spot where I had placed it in the morning. The next day I put it on a tree in the open air, and at night it escaped.
Usually the ant-eater is a harmless, inoffensive creature, which may be driven in almost any direction so long as it is not pressed too hard. If, however, driven to close quarters, it turns furiously on its assailants, whom it attacks by hugging with its immensely muscular arms. It has been asserted, on the authority of the natives, that the ant-eater will even face and attack the jaguar; and although the truth of this statement was denied by the traveler Azara, a later explorer believes that it may be founded on fact. Like the sloths, ant-eaters are exceedingly difficult to kill, their skin being so tough that an ordinary small hunting-knife will make no impression on it, while their skulls may be battered with a heavy stone without producing any other effect than temporarily stunning the creatures.
The porcupine ant-eater is found in several parts of Australia, where it is popularly called the hedgehog, on account of the hedgehog-like spines with which the body is so, thickly covered, and its custom of rolling itself up when alarmed. A number of coarse hairs are intermingled with the spines, and the head is devoid of these weapons. The head is strangely lengthened, in a manner somewhat similar to that of the ant-eater, and there are no teeth of any kind in the jaws.
The food consists of ants and other insects, which it gathers into its mouth by means of the long extensile tongue. It is a burrowing animal, and is therefore furnished with limbs and claws of proportionate strength. Indeed, one who kept one of these animals for some time, considers it as the strongest quadruped in existence in proportion to its size. On moderately soft ground it can hardly be captured, for it gathers all its legs under its body, and employs its digging claws with such extraordinary vigor that it sinks in the ground as if by magic. It is tolerably widely spread over the sandy wastes of Australia, but has not been seen in the more northern portions of that country.
The ant-eaters, or, as they are often called, ant-bears, differ so widely in appearance and structure from the sloths that it is difficult to believe at first sight in their close relationship; indeed, had it not been for the fortunate preservation of the remains of the ground-sloths, it may be questioned whether even zoologists would have fully understood the alliance of the two.