Anteaters eat all sorts of ants including the fire ants that are known to build mounds or ant hills out in the open. Ants and ant eggs are an integral part of their diet.
They attack the ant hills suddenly and by taking advantage of the chaos in the ant colony, scoops in as many ants as it could, and right when the ants start fighting back, they leave the nest and move in search of a new mound.
Anteaters are closely related to sloths and they have been feeding on ants and termites for the past 65 million years!
Why Do Anteaters Eat Ants?
Anteaters eat ants because they do not have any teeth and they are biologically evolved to only live on tiny creatures that are easy to digest without the need for any chewing.
Also, the biology of an anteater is perfectly suited to consuming ants. They have a great sense of smell, sharp claws that can easily break down anthills, long highly flexible tongues to scoop enormous amounts of ants at a rapid pace without the need to do any chewing.
Anteaters directly swallow the ants whole as they are so tiny, if they opted for larger insects instead of ants, they would have to chew on them first to break them down for easy digestion.
As they haven’t got any teeth they only depend on their digestive juices and stomach muscles for their food digestion.
All these make the ants the perfect food for anteaters and the best thing about consuming ants is that they are available in huge numbers almost everywhere in the world.
Do Anteaters Only Eat Ants?
An anteater’s diet is majorly made up of ants. Along with the adult ants, the anteaters also love to feast on the ant eggs. The anteaters often use their sticky tongues to consume termites as well.
The anteaters mostly go for the anthills and other ant colonies that are located out in the wild, after that they use their long tongue to scoop in thousands of ants in their mouth.
Along with the ants and termites they often intentionally consume soil debris and small rocks as those help them digest their food.
How Anteaters Avoid Fire Ant Stings
Anteaters can get stung by fire ants however they have evolved thick, leathery skin and coarse fur to allow them to mitigate the stings. They use their sticky tongue to eat the ants quickly, before they have a chance to sting.
Anteaters are not 100% immune to fire ant stings, but they have sufficient adaptations in place that allows them to feed on fire ants for a short time without being stung.
1. Lightning Quick Tongue
Firstly their long, flexible, sticky tongue allows them to rapidly scoop in lots of ants at once.
This quick process of ant consumption allows them to move away from the stinging ants right after a minute or two which further ensures that the damage levels are very low.
Also, this makes sure that the ant colony is not wiped out and it can again come back after a few days to feed again.
2. Thick, Leathery Skin
Secondly, anteaters have got thick layered skin which protects them significantly from ant bites. It moves away from the ant nest right before the ants can swarm over the softer and susceptible portions of the body.
3. Walking on Knuckles
Anteaters generally walk on their knuckles to protect their sharp claws from damage, and to protect the soft feed on their paws from fire ant bites and stings.
Anteaters use their claws in self-defense and for tearing down ant mounds. Within seconds they can break down an entire anthill and quickly flap their long spaghetti-like tongue into the nest.
4. Bushy Fur
Anteaters are covered in wiry, bushy fur that protects their skin from stinging insects like fire ants.
Anteaters’ fur is usually gray or gold, often with a stripe on their back.
How Do Anteaters Eat Fire Ants?
Anteaters follow a simple strategy of attacking the fire ant mounds suddenly and taking advantage of the confusion in the ant nest to scoop in as many ants as it can, and as soon as the ant colony starts fighting back, they move on in search of another anthill and the cycle continues.
Anteaters do not have sound vision however they have a superior sense of smell. Using their sharp sense of smell they detect fire ant mounts near them.
Anteaters have a sense of smell that is 40 times greater than humans. Their sense of smell is so strong that they can even differentiate among various ant species just based on their smell!
As a result, ants, as well as ant eggs, get stuck onto the tongue and before even the ants try to break loose, the anteater puts the tongue right back into their mouth. They can do this tongue movement about 150 times every minute.
Every ant colony has dedicated soldier ants whose duty is to protect the ant colony from predators. Hence as soon as they see the anteater, within a matter of seconds they start attacking and ultimately after a minute or two, the anteater has to give up and move away from the ant mound as the ant bites start to cause him pain.
Can Anteaters Get Rid of Fire Ants?
Using anteaters to get rid of fire ants is not practical. They don’t live in the same parts of the world, and evidence shows that given the choice, anteaters prefer other small insects like termites over fire ants. Additionally, anteaters never fully wipe out an ant colony, as that would get rid of their future food source.
If you have a problem with fire ants, the best option is to call in a qualified pest control expert. Using wild animals to control another species rarely ends well and is potentially dangerous to you and your local ecosystem.
Firstly anteaters are not naturally found in the United States or most other countries around the world. They are only commonly found in the countries of South and Central America. Fire ants on the other hand are found nearly in every locality of the majority of the countries in the world.
Fire ants often climb trees in search of food, and even a few ants can repopulate an ant colony so it’s almost impossible for a single anteater to fully eradicate an ants nest.
Even in their natural habitats, there is no guaranty that the anteaters will go on and feed on fire ants only. For example, it is commonly seen that anteaters in Brazil prefer to eat termites over ants whereas, in Venezuela, the anteaters prefer ants more than termites.
Anteaters can feed on fire ants but no one can guarantee that they will do that on their own.
Secondly, anteaters do not consume all the ants of the ant colony it attacks. It tries to scoop in as many ants as it could within a minute and then moves away from that location as the ants and the termites level up their defensive game.
So chances are high that the majority of the ants in the ant colony will survive, including the queen ants, which are the egg-laying members of the colony and remain well hidden deep inside the ant mounds.
The ants can just simply move over to a new location and build another nest there. So even if theoretically, you introduce them in places full of fire ants, they will only reduce the ant population to some extent that’s all, they won’t fetch you any permanent solution or even a significant temporary one for that matter.
Anteaters are fascinating creatures that dwell on the consumption of ants and termites for their survival. They prey on the ants living out in the wild, especially the ones that built mounds in the open. Fire ants like most other varieties of ants built anthills and hence they can become targets of anteaters.
The anteaters have been feeding on the ants and termites for thousands of years and hence it is well adapted in an evolutionary manner to put up with the ant attacks at least for a minute or so and then when the conditions become unfavorable they leave the nest.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.