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Silky anteater

silky anteater, silky anteater photo
Myrmecophaga didactyla Linnaeus, 1758

The silky anteater, or pygmy anteater Cyclopes didactylus, is a species of anteaters from Central and South America, the only living genus in the family Cyclopedidae A single extinct cyclopedid genus, Palaeomyrmidon, known from the Miocene of Argentina, may be related to the living species[4]

A taxonomic review, including molecular and morphological evidence, suggests that Cyclopes may comprise at least seven species instead of one C didactylus, as have long been recognized[5]


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Distribution and habitat
  • 3 Behaviour
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References


Silky anteaters are the smallest living anteaters, and have proportionately shorter faces and larger crania than other species Adults have a total length ranging from 36 to 45 cm 14 to 18 in, including a tail 17 to 24 cm 67 to 94 in long, and weigh from 175 to 400 g 62 to 141 oz They have dense and soft fur, which ranges from grey to yellowish in colour, with a silvery sheen Many subspecies have darker, often brownish, streaks, and paler underparts or limbs The eyes are black, and the soles of the feet are red[4]

The scientific name translates roughly as "two-toed circle-foot", and refers to the presence of two claws on the fore feet, and their ability to almost encircle a branch to which the animal is clinging The claws are present on the second and third toes, with the latter being much the larger The fourth toe is very small, and lacks a claw, while the other two toes are vestigial or absent, and are not visible externally The hind feet have four toes of equal length, each with long claws, and a vestigial hallux that is not externally visible The ribs are broad and flat, overlapping to form an internal armoured casing that protects the chest[4]

They have partially prehensile tails

Distribution and habitat

Silky anteaters are found from Oaxaca and southern Veracruz in Mexico, through Central America except El Salvador, and south to Ecuador, and northern Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil A smaller, isolated population is also found in the northern Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, and there are also silky anteaters on the island of Trinidad They inhabit a range of different forest types, including semideciduous, tropical evergreen, and mangrove forests, from sea level to 1,500 m 4,900 ft[2]

Until a taxonomic review in 2017, seven subspecies of C didactylus have been recognized:[4]

  • C d didactylus Linnaeus, 1758 - the Guyanas, eastern Venezuela, Trinidad, Atlantic Forest
  • C d catellus Thomas, 1928 - northern Bolivia, southeastern Peru, western Brazil
  • C d dorsalis Gray, 1865 - extreme southern Mexico, Central America, northern Colombia
  • C d eva Thomas, 1902 - western Ecuador, southwestern Colombia
  • C d ida, Thomas, 1900 - western Brazil, eastern Ecuador and Peru
  • C d melini Lönnberg, 1928 - northern Brazil, eastern Colombia
  • C d mexicanus Hollister, 1914 - southern Mexico

The 2017 review[5] suggests that some of these subspecies deserve to be recognized as species, while other are synonyms The same study also described three new species of silky anteater

  • C didactylus Linnaeus, 1758 synonym: C d melini
  • C catellus Thomas, 1928
  • C dorsalis Gray, 1865 synonyms: C d eva and C d mexicanus
  • C ida Thomas, 1900
  • C thomasi Miranda et al, 2017
  • C rufus Miranda et al, 2017
  • C xinguensis Miranda et al, 2017


A mounted specimen from the Natural History Museum of Geneva

Silky anteaters are nocturnal and arboreal,[4] found in lowland rainforests with continuous canopy, where they can move to different places without the need to descend from trees[6] They can occur at fairly high densities of 077 individuals/ha, for example, in some areas[citation needed] Females have smaller home ranges than males

The silky anteater is a slow-moving animal and feeds mainly on ants, eating between 700 and 5,000 a day[7] Sometimes, it also feeds on other insects, such as termites and small coccinellid beetles[6] The silky anteater defecates once a day Some of those feces contain a large quantity of exoskeleton fragments of insects, indicating the silky anteater does not possess either chitinase or chitobiase,[6] digestive enzymes found in insectivorous bats

It is a solitary animal and gives birth to a single young, up to twice a year The young are born already furred, and with a similar colour pattern to the adults They begin to take solid food when they are about one-third of the adult mass[4] The young is usually placed inside a nest of dead leaves built in tree holes,[6] and left for about eight hours each night[4]

Silky anteater sleeping, Damas Island, Costa Rica

Some authors suggest the silky anteater usually dwells in silk cotton trees genus Ceiba[8] Because of its resemblance to the seed pod fibers of these trees, it can use the trees as camouflage[6] and avoid attacks of predators such as hawks and, especially, harpy eagles During the day, they typically sleep curled up in a ball[9] Although they are rarely seen in the forest, they can be found more easily when they are foraging on lianas at night

When threatened, the silky anteater, like other anteaters, defends itself by standing on its hind legs and holding its fore feet close to its face so it can strike any animal that tries to get close with its sharp claws[4]

See also

  • Emmons, Louise H; Feer, François 1997-09-02 Neotropical rainforest mammals A field guide 2nd ed Chicago: University of Chicago Press pp 41–42 ISBN 978-0-226-20721-6 OCLC 44179508 
  • Eisenberg, JF and Redford, KH 1999 "Mammals of the Neotropics, Volume 3: The Central Neotropics: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil" University of Chicago Press


  1. ^ Gardner, AL 2005 "Order Pilosa" In Wilson, DE; Reeder, DM Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference 3rd ed Johns Hopkins University Press p 102 ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0 OCLC 62265494 
  2. ^ a b Miranda, F; Meritt, DA; Tirira, DG & Arteaga, M 2014 "Cyclopes didactylus" The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species IUCN 2014: eT6019A47440020 doi:102305/IUCNUK2014-1RLTST6019A47440020en Retrieved 4 January 2018 
  3. ^ Linnæus, Carl 1758 Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis Tomus I in Latin 10th ed Holmiæ: Laurentius Salvius p 35 Retrieved 23 November 2012 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Hayssen, V; et al 2012 "Cyclopes didactylus Pilosa: Cyclopedidae" Mammalian Species 44 1: 51–58 doi:101644/8951 
  5. ^ a b Miranda, Flávia R; Casali, Daniel M; Perini, Fernando A; Machado, Fabio A; Santos, Fabrício R 2017 "Taxonomic review of the genus Cyclopes Gray, 1821 Xenarthra: Pilosa, with the revalidation and description of new species" Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society doi:101093/zoolinnean/zlx079 
  6. ^ a b c d e Bartoz, Suzy; Cerda, Anthony 2009 "Silky Anteater" Benedictine University Archived from the original on October 4, 2013 Retrieved 16 Aug 2009 
  7. ^ Miranda, F; et al 2009 "Food habits of wild silky anteaters Cyclopes didactylus of São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil" Edentata 8–10: 1–5 doi:101896/0200100109 
  8. ^ "Silky Anteater" WildMagazine Retrieved 1 February 2012 
  9. ^ Sunquist, ME & Montgomery, GG 1973 "Activity pattern of a translocated silky anteater Cyclopes didactylus" Journal of Mammalogy 54 3: 782 doi:102307/1378984 JSTOR 1378984 

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