Anteaters are mammals that belong to the order Xenartha. They are related to sloths and armadillos, which belong to the same order. All "true" anteaters are from Central and South America.
The most striking characteristic of anteaters are their long snouts and even longer tongues. Most anteaters either have no teeth. Instead they use their claws to tear open termite mounds and ants' nests and then use their long snout and sticky tongue to eat the insects.
Because they don't have teeth to chew up the ants and termites they eat, anteaters have specialized stomaches, similar to a chicken gizzard. Anteaters use their gizzard-like stomach to grind up the insects after they eat them.
The above photo shows the collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla) from South America. They are well suited to life in the South American rainforest because the rainforest is filled with ants and termites. The collared anteater spends a lot of time in the trees hunting for and eating insects, but will also hunt for insects on the ground.
The largest of the anteaters is Myrmecophaga tridactyla, commonly known as the giant anteater. Not only are giant anteaters the largest of the anteater species, but their snouts are longer and more slender than those of the collared anteaters. The giant anteaters are found in Central and South America. Unlike the collared anteaters, giant anteaters feed only on the ground.
Giant anteaters have bushy tails that they use to cover themselves up with at night. It serves to keep them warm and to camouflage them from predators. In contrast, the collared anteaters have long, slender tails, which probably help with balance while they are in the trees.
There are two additional anteater species that are not as well known as the collared and giant anteaters.
Species Mistakenly Called Anteaters
Echidna or Spiny Anteater
There are also several species that are commonly referred to as anteaters, even though they are not true anteaters and they don't belong to the order Xenartha. However, these other species do eat ants and other small insects.
One of these is the echidna, which looks more like a porcupine than anything else. The echidna is commonly called the spiny anteater. It is from Australia and isn't a true anteater. It belongs to the order Monotremata. Porcupines belong to the order Rodenta and so echidnas are not truly related to porcupines either, despite the physical resemblence.
Another species commonly referred to as an anteater is the aardvark. It looks similar to the anteaters with its long snout, but isn't one. The aardark is from Africa and belongs to the order Tubulidentata.