October 21, 2009

pure imagination

Come with me, and you'll see a giant anteater from Roald Dahl's imagination! Growing up, I always loved Dahl's work. (If you need a primer, here's a great short movie from BrainPOP on him; requires free trial to view.) But now I love him even more, for today I found out about his cartoon, "Ant-eater," based on a poem of the same name that appeared in a collection called Dirty Beasts. It reminded me a lot of a certain other poem by Shel Silverstein that you can find on the Fun Stuff area of the main Online Anteater website... There are, of course, a few teensy tiny factual details that Mr. Dahl got all wrong, but eh, we'll give him poetic license this time around! •>~

September 26, 2009

dalí's anteater? surreal!

I was stunned this week to stumble upon a very amusing and very awesome photograph of famed artist Salvador Dalí. The photo, which dates from 1969, depicts the 65-year-old Catalan surrealist emerging from a Paris subway station led by his trusty giant anteater. Of course, I had to do a little digging to find out more...

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Dalí, you should just know that he was a very creative, imaginative, and some might even say strange guy. His affection for anteaters supposedly came about as a reaction to fellow surrealist André Breton, who was known as "le tamanoir" ("the anteater") among the other surrealists of the day. Several decades after the publication of Breton's poem, "After the Giant Anteater," Dalí began sketching anteater-like figures. He dedicated one of these to Breton, and it was made into a series of bookplates, which Breton affixed to the inside of a number of books in his library. That particular sketch, seen below, is known as "The Anteater." Incidentally, if you've got an extra $1,500 lying around, you can buy yourself one of Breton's old bookplates bearing the same design!

But Dalí's anteater shenanigans didn't end there. He is also remembered for having gone onto the Dick Cavett show (kind of like David Letterman or Conan O'Brien today) on March 6, 1970 carrying a small anteater onstage. It's impossible to say without seeing the episode whether it was a giant anteater or a smaller tamandua—sadly, I haven't been able to track the clip down. Regardless, the story goes that as Dalí made his way toward his seat next to Cavett, he surprised fellow guest Lillian Gish, a well-respected star of silent films, by flinging the anteater onto her lap! As you can probably guess, she was not amused. But everyone else in the audience sure was! •>~

September 14, 2009

going it alone

As you may be aware, giant anteaters are solitary creatures for most of their lives. Aside from brief encounters with mates, the one big exception to an anteater's single life is during its formative years, when a young giant anteater lives with its mother. Anteaterlings generally ride on their moms' backs for up to a full year before even thinking about venturing out on their own. During this time, mothers provide their young with food, protection, and guidance.

So what happens when a mother abandons her baby? The scenario is relatively rare, but it does occasionally occur. In the wild, the baby could die, especially if it's particularly young and inexperienced in looking for food. But zookeepers are certainly not going to let an anteater baby perish under their watch! So in the rare instances when a captive mother rejects her baby, humans take turns caring day and night for the youngster until it's old enough to be left on its own.

The following video tells the heartwarming story of Olive (also pictured above), a giant anteater born at the Houston Zoo last year and hand-reared by members of the zoo staff. Check it out! •>~

September 12, 2009

anteater art

Time was, you couldn't find a giant anteater depicted on any kind of artwork, much less good artwork. Today, I'm seeing a lot more anteater art, mostly thanks to Etsy, the online craft depot that allows you to search artists' offerings by keyword! My latest find is a set of elegant sketches by an illustrator and paper engineer by the name of Helen Friel. (A paper engineer is an artist who specializes in the creation of pop-up books and other 3-D paper art.) Friel, who lives in the U.K., spent some time at the London Zoo, which currently houses two giant anteaters, Bonito and Sauna. Using pen and ink, she rendered two adorable illustrations, one of which is for sale on her Etsy site. Nice work, Helen! •>~

August 21, 2009

a visit to nashville

As of this summer, there were just over 100 giant anteaters living in captivity in 43 zoos and nature parks in the United States. In early August, I had the pleasure of visiting the largest collection of giant anteaters in the United States—and the second largest in the world—at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere.

In its present location, the Nashville Zoo is only 12 years old, yet it has clearly committed to the study and care of giant anteaters. They currently have five males and six females, including a three-month old baby. They also have another little one on the way, as one of the females is set to give birth this fall.

As zoo representative Jim Bartoo whisked me by golf cart through the winding, wooded back areas of the facility, he explained that in addition to resident zoo keepers, the anteaters are visited and studied by veterinarians and doctoral students in animal husbandry. I knew we were getting close to the anteater housing facility, which is kept separate from the main zoo, when I spied an "Anteaters at Play" yield sign. The anteater area was surrounded by a grass-covered fence that shields the noise and spectacle of carts and cars whizzing past. Apparently giant anteaters are easy to startle!

At the habitat entrance was a sign asking visitors to put on a mask if they had flu symptoms. As I had found out shortly before my trip, the Nashville Zoo was the site of a recent discovery about a strain of flu related to the one that has been in the news this year. Specifically, the zoo's giant anteaters were found to have gotten sick with the a strain of H1N1 influenza that also affected humans. I'll be doing another blog post on this soon, but suffice it to say, all precautions were taken to ensure that no visitors passed an illness to the anteaters inside!

We were greeted by head anteater keeper Dawn Rouse, who escorted us inside and proceeded to tell us all about her charges. Most anteaters had a small room to themselves and a door to the outside enclosure. They were free to come and go as they pleased between their room and outside area. Many of the anteaters stuck their snouts through the bars to greet us, and we offered the backs of our hands for them to sniff. There was one room that contained a male and female, who actually mated while we were there! Across the way there was also a mother, Tiana, and her three-month-old baby, Pana, who was riding her mom's back, as baby giant anteaters are wont to do.

I talked with Dawn at some length about this instinct of babies to crawl onto their mothers' backs—in particular, about the uncanny ability of baby anteaters to sit on the exact spot so that the dark stripe on both mother and baby line up perfectly. She told me that there are no definitive answers just yet as to how this happens, but various possibilities, from visual to scent cues, are being considered. Dawn also showed me this adorable video of Pana's very first attempt to climb onto her mom's back!

Next came a discussion about the anteaters' diet. Jim mentioned that one student working with Nashville's anteaters has been investigating how a lack of chitin, a hard substance that wild anteaters regularly digest when they process ant and termite exoskeletons, affects the digestion of anteaters living in captivity. The main food that the Nashville anteaters chow on is a mix of two types of meal, one traditionally fed to primates and the other traditionally fed to felines. They're treated with water and mashed up to make squishy pellets, which get doled out in precise amounts to each of the zoo's giant anteaters.

Aside from this high-protein meal, the anteaters also get occasional treats, like the blueberry yogurt that Dawn fed one of the males while I was there. It was both hilarious and exhilarating to see him lap the yogurt up, as I'd never really internalized how long, bendy, and agile giant anteaters' tongues are!

I eventually said goodbye to Dawn and the anteater center, and Jim took me on a quick tour of the rest of the zoo so that we could see the two giant anteaters on display for the general public. These anteaters live outside in a nice wooded enclosure with some cool spots in which to hang out away from the hot sun. They also have heated shelters under which they can take refuge on cooler days. I learned that it was one of the anteaters living here, a female named Priam, who is due to have a baby next month! When we stopped by, one of the two—we couldn't tell which—was taking a stroll, and made a few of the visitors happy (myself included, of course!) by posing for a snapshot.

And that was my visit! I want to thank Dawn Rouse and Jim Bartoo for hosting me and teaching me more about these fascinating creatures. I also want to encourage readers to visit the Nashville Zoo if you get a chance because it's absolutely lovely. Much of the land was originally natural woods, so the feeling you get is truly one of being out in nature among animals in what feels very close to their natural habitat—not something you can say for every zoo out there. Until next time! •>~

July 16, 2009

you can't take it home, but...

As mentioned in a recent post, giant anteaters don't make good house pets. However, that doesn't mean you can't adopt one! Many zoos have programs that allow you to "adopt" the animal of your choice. They do this as a way to raise funds to help keep their animals well cared for and to help adopters feel closer to their favorite zoo inhabitants!

I won't list every location from which you can adopt a giant anteater, but I encourage you to seek out your local zoo to find out if they offer anteater adoptions. (To find out if your local zoo or animal park even has a giant anteater, check out this species holding list.) Zoo animal adoption can be a unique gift, and a nice way to support your local animals to boot! Alternately, you can adopt a giant anteater from the World Wildlife Fund, an organization that focuses on supporting global wildlife and natural resources. You'll even get a plush anteater doll like the one pictured in the inset if you adopt at the $50 level or higher! •>~

July 1, 2009

in the wild

Were I to ever stumble upon an anteater making his (or her) way out in the wild, I have no doubt that it would be a breathtaking vista. Giant anteaters make their natural homes in Central and South America, and they're happy living in either grasslands or more heavily wooded areas like the rainforest. Photographer Szymon Kochanski was lucky enough—and quick enough with his camera—to capture the snapshot above. It was taken while he was touring the Pantanal, a conservation area of Brazil, which is a relatively common place for giant anteaters to dwell. What an awesome sight! •>~

June 26, 2009

a very handsome anteater

I'm always looking for original anteater artwork, but I must say I'm pretty picky about it. So I was delighted to find this handsome anteater drawn by Berkley Illustration, which is based in Portland, Oregon. If you check out their whimsical blog, you'll find that Berkley's most recent drawing collection includes a veritable zoo of anthropomorphized animals—and wow, are they pretty. Aside from the giant anteater, who looks absolutely fetching in his red jacket and bow tie, I especially had to smile at their sloth (voted "most athletic" on a magnet) and their resident flying meerkat.

If you'd like to purchase an anteater print like the one above, or browse through the rest of Berkley Illustrations' recent creations, you can do so on their Etsy store, which is chock full of goodies. Prints come in various sizes and are very reasonably priced! Kudos to the Berkley crew for their marvelous work. •>~

June 24, 2009

seeking snout sleuths!

Have you seen this anteater's snout? It belongs to a sculpture on the famous Animal Wall at Cardiff Castle in Wales, U.K. The crouching anteater was built back in 1931, and its nose has been missing for more than a decade. Local officials would like to finally replace the snout, but no one has any record of what the anteater looked like before its snout came off! Have you got an old picture of this fellow with his nose still intact? If so, leave a comment! •>~

Update: Good news: A local man who had taken some pictures of the anteater sculpture back in the early 1990s has emerged! No photos have been released to the public yet, but it sounds like the restoration to the anteater can now proceed as scheduled.

June 19, 2009

adolpho, the cuddler

Okay, this is probably the cutest thing I've ever seen when it comes to giant anteaters. Adorable!! This little guy's name is Adolpho, and he lives at the Berlin Zoo.

Incidentally, I should mention that although giant anteaters are generally docile animals, they can be very dangerous—and even deadly—because of their very long and very sharp claws. As a result, giant anteaters are not kept as pets. (If you've seen an anteater dressed in human clothes and kept as a pet, that's probably one of the much smaller tamandua anteaters owned by Tamandua Girl.) The giant anteater here, Adolpho, was still only a few months old when this video was made. But as cute as he is, just know that you can't go out and buy these guys as pets. Anyway, if you'd like to see more, here is a photo gallery of Adolpho as a youngster! •>~

fun threadless tee

This cute t-shirt design caught my eye, so I thought I'd share! If you are not familiar with Threadless.com, they give graphic artists a platform to exhibit and get feedback on pieces that they'd like to sell on t-shirts. The result is a lot of very creative shirt ideas! If enough people vote on a design, the good people at Threadless print a bunch and then the public can purchase them. I voted on this one, called "Anthill trap," and it was eventually made into a t-shirt. Awesome! •>~

June 18, 2009

meet cyrano

On March 12th, a new baby anteater was born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.! This was only the second giant anteater birth in the zoo's history. Shortly after mom Maripi and the baby had time to bond, zoo biologists were able to get close enough to determine that the little one was a boy! He was named Cyrano after the famed literary character Cyrano de Bergerac, who has a very, very long nose! Cyrano has grown quite steadily in the few months of his young life. Baby giant anteaters spend lots of time riding around on their mom's back, and little Cyrano seems to have gotten the hang of it pretty quickly. Below, National Zoo biologist Marie Magnuson talks about the zoo's newest resident! •>~

we begin!

Welcome to the new Online Anteater blog. This blog will be a companion to The Online Anteater, an educational website about giant anteaters. Web technology has changed a lot in the years since I first started The Online Anteater, and it's been great seeing how the site's usership has grown over time. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to update the site and add new features as often as I'd have liked, so this blog will offer more immediate news and features on that lovable creature, Myrmecophaga tridactyla. Check back here for regular updates on cute anteater babies, videos, and other news. Please leave comments if you'd like to share something with the rest of the anteater-loving community! •>~