- Curious creatures to whom the ant is la haute cuisine.
- One day recently I picked up a few termites and ate them,
- wondering at their widespread appeal. These particular ones
- proved to be dry and hard and with a faintly resinous
- aftertaste; in fact, I have yet to eat ants or termites
- that tasted good raw. My opinion notwithstanding, these
- insects are the preferred food of some of the most unusual
- animals alive today: the myrmecophagous (ant- and termite-eating)
- mammals. This group includes anteaters, armadillos, pangolins,
- the aardwolf, echidnas, the numbat and, beloved of crossword-puzzle
- addicts and amateur poets, the aardvark. With the exception of
- armadillos and anteaters, these mammals are not closely related,
- sharing only a common passion for ants and termites. For a long
- time termites were called "white ants," and so the descriptive
- name "anteater" was used to refer to both ant- and termite-eating
- mammals. Most myrmecophagous mammals eat both, although some
- species appear to restrict themselves to one or the other.
- Only 22 mammals can be considered true ant and termite eaters:
- not many out of the 4,170 known species. This is particularly
- striking when one considers that in some areas ants and termites
- comprise up to 75 percent of the total animal biomass. In fact,
- the number of individual ants and termites alive at this moment
- is greater than the number of all humans who have ever lived.
- That is a lot of potential food. Where you find a lot of ants
- or termites you usually find one of these curious predators.
- Each of the world's tropical areas has its own anteaters. In
- South and Central America, where I spent two and a half years,
- anteaters share the myrmecophagous niche with a variety of
- armadillos. The anteaters range from the giant at 100 pounds or
- so down to the pygmy at about a pound. Armadillos, which range
- from Kansas and Missouri to Argentina, are unique in the mammal
- world in possessing a hardened shell made of bony plates and teeth with no enamel.
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