A giant anteater leaves its mark

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Arnaud Desbiez and his team are working in the Pantanal region, Brazil, to protect giant anteaters from habitat degradation and fragmentation as part of the Anteaters & Highways project. Giant anteaters are classified as vulnerable to extinction. Our colleague, Arnaud, sent us this recent wonderful and rarely seen footage.

We’ve heard of many animal species making or leaving marks to let others know they’re around. Bears, bobcats and lynx have been known to scratch long shears into tree bark, or rub up against a trunk to leave scent. They use these signals to send messages to other individuals of the same species. This video is evidence that giant anteaters do the same. They use their powerful claws not just for tearing open termite mounds but also for communication.

It is thought that anteaters drag their claws to create deep grooves on tree trunks to interact with other anteaters living in the same area. They may also scratch their claws to keep them sharp and for foraging and even fighting, but the tree marking they carry out, appears to be pretty systematic. This suggests that they really are doing it to communicate with others. Work carried out in Brazil investigated which trees in an area had been marked by the animals. They were predominantly large trees which had high first branches. The trunks were nearly all very visible and easy to see by any passing anteater, suggesting that they deliberately choose to scratch trees which are more likely to be seen. In areas of very dense tree stands there were few or no marks.

Interestingly they have been seen making both horizontal and vertical scratches. To make a horizontal mark, the anteaters lift one paw and ‘draw’ a line. When making vertical scratches they appear to stand on their hind legs to ensure the marks are as high as possible and then scratch away. Anteaters are territorial, so it makes sense that they want to indicate their presence in an area to others – whether to a competing male to tell them to stay away, or an anteater of the opposite sex.

Learn more about how we’re working with Arnaud in Brazil to protect giant anteaters:

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