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Anteaters vs. Aardvarks

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Anteaters and aardvarks are often mistaken for each other, but they're very different animals. In this lesson, you'll learn the specific differences between these two insectivores.

Insectivores

Some animals are so similar that we often get them confused. You might confuse bees and yellowjackets, for example. Another example would be aardvarks and anteaters. These two creatures do share a similar diet, after all. They're both insectivores, meaning insect-eaters, and they mostly eat ants and termites. Beyond that, however, they're quite different. They look different, live in different places, and have different scientific classifications.

Aardvarks (left) and giant anteaters (right) look quite different
Aardvark vs anteater

Scientific Classification

One of the ways aardvarks and anteaters are different is their taxonomy, or scientific classification. Animals are placed into hierarchical groups that show us how closely related they are. The largest group is a kingdom, and then it goes down in size to phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Aardvarks and anteaters belong to different orders. This means they are only as similar to each other as they are to every other mammal. They both belong to the class Mammalia, but that is where the similarity ends.

Anteaters belong to the order Pilosa and the suborder Vermilingua. Vermilingua means worm-tongue in Latin, which is quite accurate given the anteater's long wiggly tongue. There are four species in this suborder: the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), two species of lesser anteater, or tamandua (Tamandua mexicana and Tamandua tetradactyla), and the silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus).

Aardvarks belong to the order Tubulidentata, and there is only one species: Orycteropus afer.

Where Are They Found?

Geographic range is a major difference between anteaters and aardvarks. Anteaters live in Central and South America, from Mexico south to Argentina. Aardvarks, on the other hand, live in sub-Saharan Africa, which is all of Africa south of the Sahara desert.

Habitat

Anteaters live in forested habitats, especially rainforests. Silky anteaters mostly live up in the trees, while giant anteaters and tamanduas both stay on the ground. Tamanduas build dens in fallen logs or tree trunks, and giant anteaters do not build dens.

Tamanduas build dens in fallen logs
Tamandua

Aardvarks prefer the open savanna and grassland areas. They can be found in forested areas as well, but not in trees. Aardvarks build their dens underground to keep out of the African heat. They use their strong front claws to dig these burrows.

Physical Features

Anteaters also have strong front claws for digging, but theirs are much longer than aardvark claws. Anteater claws are so long that they have to curl them underneath and walk on their knuckles. In addition, anteater snouts are long and tapered, which means they are wider at the top, near their face, and narrower at the end by their nose.

Both giant anteaters and tamanduas are black and white, and all four species of anteater are very hairy all over. They also have fairly small ears.

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