What would you do with a pencil and a lesser anteater?











QI SERIES A

STEPHEN FRY

Anteaters

Anteatersnot aardvarks


Aardvarks eat ants, and were indeed once thought to be a type of anteater, but they only look as if they’re related. Aardvarks are more closely related to manatees than to anteaters; and the anteater’s closest living relatives are sloths and armadillos.

Despite appearances, the scaly anteater (also known as the pangolin), the banded anteater (also known as the numbat) and the spiny anteater (also known as the echidna) are also not true anteaters.

Relatively unrelated living things often evolve to resemble each other when they live by doing more or less the same things. Anteaters adapted to eat ants in South and Central America independently from aardvarks who adapted to eat ants in Africa. This phenomenon is called convergent evolution.

Sloths, armadillos and anteaters were originally grouped together as a superorder of mammals known as ‘Edenta’, because they lack teeth. Edentata means ‘toothless ones’, coming from the Latin verb edentare, 'to knock someone's teeth out'. Now they are known as xenarthrans ('strange joint') because the vertebrae in the bones of their lower back are connected by triple joints called "xenarthrales", which provide extra support.
 
Anteaters are among the most primitive mammals and are not thought to be particularly bright. The largest are giant anteaters, which are about 6 feet (1.8m) long. The smallest are dwarf anteaters, about the size of a squirrel. 
 

Each anteater eats about 35,000 ants and termites each day.

NATALIE ANGIER

They puff out their hair like a cat, raise one front foot, and then hop menacingly from side to side, roaring with all the fury of a clogged drain.

 

Anteaters eat by flicking their enormously long, thin tongues in and out about 150 times a minute.

Nearly half of an anteater's length is accounted for by its tail.

As anteaters live exclusively on ants and termites, their mouths can only open to about the diameter of a pencil.

SHEL SILVERSTIEN (1930-1999)

'A genuine anteater,'
The pet man told me dad.
Turned out, it was an aunt eater,
And now my uncle's mad!