You may have heard rumors that anteaters can be dangerous when they use their sharp claws in self-defense. What if you were ever to come in contact with one and needed to protect yourself? Can you kill an anteater? Is doing so legal? Is it possible for anteaters to kill humans? Keep reading as we answer these questions and more.
What You'll Learn Today
Are Anteaters a Protected Species?
There are four species of anteater in the world: the giant anteater, the northern and southern tamanduas, and the silky anteater. Of these species, only the giant anteaters have received any sort of protected status.
There are only about 5,000 giant anteaters left in the wild, according to the Nashville Zoo in the video below:
Their numbers have fallen by about 30 percent in the last 15 years or so. With this in mind, they are considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN.
The giant anteater is afforded some local protection in parts of its native habitat. Some of the protected areas are located within the Amazon, cerrado, and Pantanal regions of South America.
What’s more, the giant anteater is considered a national heritage species in Argentina, which gives it federal protection within that country.
Can You Kill an Anteater?
Though giant anteaters are protected in parts of their natural range, this protection applies to specific geographic areas, not the species as a whole.
With this in mind, it is not illegal to kill giant anteaters outside of their protected areas.
That said, it’s important to remember that giant anteaters are a vulnerable species. Their numbers have significantly decreased in a relatively short period of time, and they have been extirpated from some areas where they used to be abundant.
Giant anteaters are threatened by wildfires and deforestation, hunting, and vehicle strikes in and dog attacks in more populated areas.
For the protection of these animals, it is best to refrain from killing them except in self defense. And, as long as you give them plenty of space, there should be no need to defend yourself from them.
Other species of anteaters are considered abundant in the wild. As such, there are no laws or regulations forbidding you from killing them.
People sometimes hunt anteaters for their meat or their hide. They may also kill them in self defense if an anteater becomes aggressive.
That said, all species of anteater are usually pretty docile. They are not aggressive by nature, prefer to run away from threats, and will only fight if they feel they have no other option.
Can Anteaters Kill Humans?
So, if anteaters are usually harmless, why the rumors about their ability to kill people? Are the rumors true? Is it really possible for an anteater to kill a human?
It’s important to remember that, though anteaters don’t like to fight, they will do so if they have no alternative. And they have a deadly weapon on their side: their claws.
It is true that anteaters can kill humans. In fact, a case report in 2014 detailed two such killings.
In both cases, which occurred in 2010 and 2012, the victims of these attacks were hunting for anteaters. They had cornered the animals, forcing them to fight.
Both victims bled to death due to various puncture wounds, including devastating blows to the femoral artery, which likely accounted for the majority of blood loss.
According to the case report, attacks such as these are rare, but they ought to serve as a warning to anyone encroaching on an anteater’s territory.
What Makes Anteaters Deadly?
Hunters aren’t an anteater’s only predator; they are threatened by jaguars and pumas in their natural habitats. But they have also been known to kill these apex predators in self defense.
Anteaters are usually calm and docile, as noted above, and they don’t have any teeth. So, what makes them so deadly in a fight?
In the case of giant anteaters, their size provides part of the answer. Giant anteaters can grow up to seven feet long and weigh up to 90 pounds, so they can pack a lot of force behind their attacks.
But the real secret to their killing prowess lies in their sharp claws.
All anteaters have varying numbers of claws on their front feet. Silky anteaters have two claws on each foot, tamanduas have four, and giant anteaters have three.
Anteaters protect their claws by tucking them under their feet as they walk in a technique called knuckle walking. This keeps their claws sharp and ready for use.
Not only are the claws sharp; they are long, so they can penetrate deeply when an anteater attacks.
Anteaters most often use these claws for ripping into termite mounds and digging up anthills in search of food. But they also use them for self defense.
When an anteater feels threatened and cannot run away, it will rear up on its hind legs, using its tail as a third limb, and slash its claws through the air in an effort to scare away the threat. If that doesn’t work, the anteater will use its claws to injure or kill the threat.
The claws are an anteater’s primary line of defense in the wild; and, though these animals are not predators and not even considered aggressive, their claws are what give them the potential to be deadly.
Giant anteaters are protected in parts of their natural range; but outside of these areas, it is not illegal to kill them or any of the anteater species. Keep in mind, though, that anteaters also have the ability to kill people; generally speaking, it’s best to give them plenty of space and leave them alone.