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By: a guest on Feb 5th, 2012  |  syntax: None  |  size: 2.01 KB  |  hits: 100  |  expires: Never
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  1. Curious creatures to whom the ant is la haute cuisine.
  2. One day recently I picked up a few termites and ate them,
  3. wondering at their widespread appeal. These particular ones
  4. proved to be dry and hard and with a faintly resinous
  5. aftertaste; in fact, I have yet to eat ants or termites
  6. that tasted good raw. My opinion notwithstanding, these
  7. insects are the preferred food of some of the most unusual
  8. animals alive today: the myrmecophagous (ant- and termite-eating)
  9. mammals. This group includes anteaters, armadillos, pangolins,
  10. the aardwolf, echidnas, the numbat and, beloved of crossword-puzzle
  11. addicts and amateur poets, the aardvark. With the exception of
  12. armadillos and anteaters, these mammals are not closely related,
  13. sharing only a common passion for ants and termites. For a long
  14. time termites were called "white ants," and so the descriptive
  15. name "anteater" was used to refer to both ant- and termite-eating
  16. mammals. Most myrmecophagous mammals eat both, although some
  17. species appear to restrict themselves to one or the other.
  18. Only 22 mammals can be considered true ant and termite eaters:
  19. not many out of the 4,170 known species. This is particularly
  20. striking when one considers that in some areas ants and termites
  21. comprise up to 75 percent of the total animal biomass. In fact,
  22. the number of individual ants and termites alive at this moment
  23. is greater than the number of all humans who have ever lived.
  24. That is a lot of potential food. Where you find a lot of ants
  25. or termites you usually find one of these curious predators.
  26. Each of the world's tropical areas has its own anteaters. In
  27. South and Central America, where I spent two and a half years,
  28. anteaters share the myrmecophagous niche with a variety of
  29. armadillos. The anteaters range from the giant at 100 pounds or
  30. so down to the pygmy at about a pound. Armadillos, which range
  31. from Kansas and Missouri to Argentina, are unique in the mammal
  32. world in possessing a hardened shell made of bony plates and teeth with no enamel.