Wild giant anteaters spend most of their day looking for food. Foraging on the ground, they prey predominantly on ants and termites, which live mostly in ant/termite hills and dead trees. They are also known to eat other insects, including things like soft-bodied grubs. In general giant anteaters prefer to dine on insects that lack heavy jaws or chemical defenses, which the anteaters cannot easily digest. Captive anteaters for the most part have much different diets. Their food menu usually includes items such as gruel mixes, mashed fruits & veggies like avocados and bananas, hard-boiled eggs, ground beef, dog kibble, and the occasional handful of insects.
The giant anteater is particularly well developed for feeding. It locates its prey in the wild using its excellent sense of smell. Once an anteater has found an appealing "snack bar" it utilizes its powerful forelegs and sharp claws to rip an ant/termite hill open. It then uses its long snout and tongue to scoop out termites and ants from their nests. At any one stop, a giant anteater will munch down a few thousand insects in just a few minutes. That's fast eating! To accommodate the pace, an anteater's tongue has to move very rapidly into the nest and back into the mouth. In fact, a giant anteater's tongue, which is attached by muscles to the sternum, can be flicked in and out of the mouth 150-160 or more times a minute!
Since giant anteaters have no teeth, mastication or "chewing" of food in the wild is likely aided along by pebbles and other debris the anteater swallows along with his or her protein-packed insect meal. Once they are trapped by the sticky tongue and enter an anteater's digestive system, insects are mushed up against the anteater's hard palate, probably with the aid of the anteater's flexing jaws, and are further smashed in the anteater's very muscular stomach.
Wild giant anteaters rarely spend more than a few minutes feeding at any one nest before moving on to find food elsewhere. They are careful not to totally destroy any one nest because that way they will always have more food the next time around. They will generally rip up a small part of an ant/termite hill, and the remaining ants/termites will fix that area very quickly. A wild giant anteater consumes an amazing number of insects - oftentimes up to 30,000 in just one day!
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