Pygmy Anteater
(Cyclopes didactylus)
The silky anteater is the world’s smallest anteater species and is little bigger than a human hand. It is rarely seen due to its small size and its nocturnal (or night-active) and arboreal lifestyle, and it is even seldom encountered by forest tribes. It has a prehensile tail and long claws for climbing and tearing open ant’s nests. Its long tongue is equipped with small spikes and mucus and is perfect for gathering up ants and termites. The silky anteater may consume up to 5,000 ants a day. It has a preference for residing in the silk-cotton tree because the silky fibres of the seedpods resemble its coat and may act to camouflage it from predators.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Some conservation measures are now in place to protect the tropical forests of South and Central America.
South America, from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Pilosa
Family: Cyclopedidae
The silky anteater is the only species it’s genus and one of only four species in the family Myrmecophagidae. The oldest fossil records of the family date back to the Eocene (55-34 million years ago). A remarkable difference exists between the silky anteater and the other species of the Myrmecophagidae family in their karyotype (the appearance of the chromosomes including their number, arrangement, size and structure). The silky anteater has the largest number of chromosomes in the family (2n=64). The data obtained by molecular analysis indicate that the genus Cyclopes diverged from the other two genera of the family, Tamandua and Myrmecophaga, about 33 million years ago. The reduction of the number of chromosomes in the other genera is probably due to chromosome fusion, which the family appears to have a tendency for.
Body length: 153-230 mm
Tail length: 165-295 mm
Weight: Adult: 175-357 g
The silky eater is the smallest of the four anteater species. It has a long prehensile - or grasping - tail which is naked on the underside. The coat is soft and silky, ranging in colour from grey to golden yellow. A dark line runs down the head, neck and back. The silky anteater has an elongated tapered snout with a tubular mouth. The tongue is long and covered in minute spines and sticky secretions form salivary glands. Anteaters are the only members of the order Xenarthra that do not possess teeth. The ears are short and rounded and the eyes are small and black. Large curved, sharp claws are present on the second and third fingers of the feet. The long hind feet have a special joint that is useful for grasping tree branches.
The silky anteater is nocturnal and is active almost continually from sunset to shortly before dawn. In the day in rests in shady areas of trees, often in the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba) where it is disguised from predators because the silky fibres of the seedpods resemble its coat and offer effective camouflage.

At night it feeds on ants, termites and other insects that it captures with its long sticky tongue. Its sight and heating are poor but it has an acute sense of smell. The silky anteater hardly ever descends to the ground, although it can walk reasonably well by turning its claws inwards and walking on the sides of feet. If provoked it stands on its hind legs supported by its tail with its front legs in front of its face ready to strike. Its main predators are birds, including the harpy eagle, eagle hawks and the speckled owl.

The silky anteater is usually slow-moving and non-aggressive. It occurs singularly or in pairs, usually comprising a female and her young. Males have a home range of 11 hectares and overlap the home ranges of several females, which are approximately 3 hectares. Individuals of the same sex do not have overlapping home ranges. A female gives birth to a single offspring and places it in a nest of leaves in a hollow of a tree. Both parents help raise the offspring and regurgitate insects for it to eat. The male sometimes carries the young on his back.
Tropical forests, particularly areas containing the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba).
South America from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia, including Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
Population Estimate
Unknown. The silky anteater is difficult to locate due to its small size and arboreal and nocturnal habits.
Population Trend
Unknown, although possibly decreasing as a result of habitat loss.
The silky anteater is classified as Least Concern in the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened species.
The main threat to the species is habitat destruction. Large amounts of land are being cleared for cattle ranches, soybean plantations, and subsistence agriculture across the Amazon. Legal and illegal logging is also widespread. Deforestation rates have increased in South America by over 16 percent since the end of the 1990s. More than 60 million hectares of forest were lost in the last 15 years. Scientists are concerned that forest loss could accelerate in the Amazon due to increasingly dry conditions. In 2005, the Amazon suffered the most severe drought on record leaving many of its rivers dry.
In Brazil the rivers are being overused and polluted causing droughts in some areas and flooding in others, aswell as accerlating the spread of disease. In Colombia there is an unequal distribution of the country's land and wealth which is contributing to conservation problems. Most agricultural land is controlled by a small percentage of the population, which forces poorer farmers into forested areas.
In Central America nearly 20 percent of forest has been lost over the last 15 years. The deforestation rate for the last five years is one of the highest in the world. Much of this clearing is the result of subsistence activities and agricultural schemes, although illegal logging is also a problem across this region.
Conservation Underway
The outlook for the rainforests of South America is improving due to pressure from outside environmentalists and an increasingly ecologically minded, educated populace. Environmental education, both in schools and for key members of the public, is provided by some conservation orgainsations and raises awareness of conservation issues enabling people to better address environmental problems. Some areas of land are afforded a degree of protection, but this not always effective against illegal exploitation. In August 2002, Brazil created the largest national park in the world, the 3.9 million hectare Tumucumaque National Park in northern Amazonia. Several governments, including those of Brazil and Costa Rica, have passed policies to enhance protection of forests. The Brazilian government is developing new ways to manage its water resources.

Projects promoting sustainable management while benefiting local people are increasing being developed. In Mexico WWF is developing a national forest programme to ensure that the forests are protected and managed in a way that benefits both the people and the wildlife that depend on them. In Colombia WWF is working to prevent habitat loss by strengthening the network of private reserves, and protecting and promoting the sustainable use of as much land as possible, despite the current unfavourable state of land distribution.

Many countries have developed eco-tourism as a means of generating revenue to protect forests. Costa Rica entered into a unique contract with an American pharmaceutical company (Merck), the idea being that Costa Rica claimed all rights to any biological material that was discovered within its biodiversity and licensed these findings to Merck to create potential new pharmaceuticals. The money from the joint venture was used to support conservation and exploration of the nation's biodiversity. The agreement between Merck and Costa Rica was not as successful as many had hoped, but it represented a new wave of thinking about valuing nature and other companies such as Shaman Pharmaceuticals in the US are following this example.

The use and export of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) is increasing, although it still plays a very minor role in trade in comparison to timber, oil, and minerals extracted from rainforest lands. The sustainable management and utilisation of NTFPs demands a high level of research into marketability, feasibility and project development and new ideas must continue to be investigated. Despite a certain amount of positive action to moderate levels of deforestation, large areas of forest are still at risk from a huge variety of destructive forces.
Conservation Proposed
Many conservation organisations are determined to continue their work in the forests of Southern and Central America, whilst maintaining pressure on governments to change laws and bring in policies to protect this environment. Research continues into the use of NTFPs. More research is required into the population distribution and trends of the silky anteater so that suitable conservation strategies for this species can be developed if necessary.
Best, R. 1985. Journal of Mammalogy 66(4):780-781 Chiarello, A., Miranda, F., Samudio, R. & members of the Edentate Specialist Group. 2006. Cyclopes didactylus. In: IUCN(2007) 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . Downloaded on 13 November 2006. Jorge, W. 2000. Mitotic and meiotic chromosome studies in silky anteater Cyclopes didactylus (Myrmecophagidae: Xenarthra). Cytobios 101:95-100.

Jorge, W., Best, R. C. and Wetzel, R. M. 1985a. Chromosome studies on the silky anteater Cyclopes didactylus L. (Myrmecophagidae: Xenarthra, Edentata). Caryologia 38:325-329.

Jorge, W., Orsi-Souza, A. T. and Best, R. C. 1985b. The somatic chromosomes of Xenarthra. In: Montgomery GG (ed) The Evolution and Ecology of Armadillos, Sloths and Vermilinguas. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, pp 121-129.

Nowak, R.M. (ed.) 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Pereira, H. R. J., Jorge, W., da Costa, M. E. L. T. 2004. Chromosome study of anteaters (Myrmecophagideae, Xenarthra) - A preliminary report. Genetics and Molecular Biology 27 (3) : 391-394

Wilson, D. E. and Reeder, D. M. (eds.) 1993. Mammal Species of the World: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.

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