This article is from
Creation 35(1):28–31, January 2012

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The silky anteater


In Trinidad, the silky anteater was for a time known as the ‘Poor-me-one’, meaning “Poor me, all alone”, as people thought it was the source of the sorrowful call of a human-sounding voice in the forests at night. But it turned out that a bird was the source of the sad sound. In contrast, the silky anteater emits a high-pitched, shrill call when threatened, but is otherwise silent.

Photo: Michael and Patricia Fogden/Minden Pictures/National geographic stock silky-anteater
Smallest of the four anteater species, the silky anteater, Cyclopes didactylus, lives in the treetops of south and Central America

During the day, the silky anteater of South and Central America and some islands of the Caribbean can be pretty hard to find. It typically sleeps curled up in a ball in the shady areas of trees, often in the silk-cotton tree. That’s a good place to hide from predators such as hawks and the harpy eagle. The silky fibres of the tree’s seedpods resemble the soft golden brown fur of the silky anteater, thus providing a most effective camouflage. No wonder this nocturnal creature is so rarely seen—seldom even being encountered by forest-dwelling tribes-people in the lowland tropical jungles where it lives.

Also known as the pygmy anteater, or dwarf anteater, it is the smallest of the four anteater species. (See: The Anteater ‘kind’.) The silky anteater’s total body length ranges from 360 to 450 mm (14–17½ in) and usually weighs less than 400 g (14 oz).1,2

Its prehensile (grasping) tail comprises more than half the animal’s body length. Coupled with the creature’s additional features of sharp claws on the hind feet, and two very large claws on each forepaw, it’s not hard to see why silky anteaters have tremendous climbing prowess.

Indeed, they prefer to live in rainforests, which have continuous canopy where they can move freely from tree to tree without the need to descend to the ground. The silky anteater obtains its water by using its long tongue to lick dew or rainwater from leaves. If it does come down, however, the silky anteater walks quite well by turning its claws inwards and walking on the sides of its feet. When threatened, it stands on its hind feet and holds its forepaws close to its face in a defensive posture, boxer-like, so it can strike with its sharp claws any animal that tries to get close to it.

Those claws come in handy for tearing open ant nests, too. And as the silky anteater’s long tongue is equipped with small spikes and mucus, it is “perfect for gathering up ants and termites”.3 Active almost continuously from sunset until shortly before dawn, the silky anteater sure does gather up and consume a lot of ants—up to 8,000 in a single night!1,2

As well as ants and termites, the silky anteater is known to eat other insects too, such as small beetles. It also eats fruit4—a legacy of its ancestral kind’s original diet 6,000 years ago (see: Did Anteaters eat ants before the Fall?). Yes, it makes sense to view the silky anteater from a biblical perspective. Consider its “acute sense of smell”3 for instance. In common with that of other members of the anteater ‘kind’, it is estimated to be some 40 times more sensitive than that of humans. This is evidence of design, and therefore a Designer (Romans 1:20).

These creatures were equipped by the Creator with powerful forearms and long tongues in advance to allow them to survive in the fallen world in which they would live. For those who might think the evolution textbooks have it right, consider that such textbooks very quickly go out-of-date. E.g., the long-held evolutionary idea that anteaters were related to aardvarks and pangolins needed to be dumped in light of improved biological understanding. And the fossil evidence does the evolutionary storyline no favours, either (see: Anteater fossil enigma).

The evolutionary storyline is ever-changing. In stark contrast, God’s unchanging Word gives us a correct historical account to help us understand our world and the creatures in it—including the silky anteater.

iStockphoto Anteater

The Anteater ‘kind’

The silky anteater, Cyclopes didactylus, named by creationist taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, is grouped in the suborder Vermilingua (meaning ‘worm tongue’) along with the giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla, the southern tamandua or collared anteater Tamandua tetradactyla, and the northern tamandua Tamandua mexicana.

Collectively they are referred to as ‘the anteaters’, or ‘antbears’, and have no teeth—the reason they were once classed with armadillos and sloths to a group called Edentata (recently renamed as the superorder Xenarthra), which means ‘toothless’.

Although given different species names—even genera—they almost certainly belong to the same biblical ‘kind’.5 In which case, it means that Noah didn’t need to take two silky anteaters (i.e. a male and a female), two giant anteaters, two collared anteaters and two Tamandua mexicana aboard the Ark. Rather, he needed only two anteaters, probably resembling a hybrid of the four named ‘species’.

Note also that there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for equating the biblical ‘kind’ to today’s classification system.

In the case of anteaters, it seems to be that kind = suborder, but in the case of other kinds, it might be as low as genus, or as high as order (as with elephants and some birds). Most frequently, however, a kind seems to equate to family level (below suborder). Interestingly, some taxonomists have argued that anteaters should all be in the same family, Myrmecophagidae, whereas currently the majority favour putting the silky anteater into its very own family, Cyclopedidae.

Note that the aardvark and Africa’s pangolin are called ‘anteaters’, but, these creatures are not grouped with the ‘true’ anteaters. The name ‘anteater’ is also colloquially applied to Australia’s numbat and echidna, the ‘banded anteater’ and ‘spiny anteater’ respectively. But evolutionists can’t consider them to be closely related to ‘true’ anteaters. This is because the numbat is a marsupial (mammal with a pouch for its young), and the echidna is a monotreme (egg-laying mammal), while ‘true’ anteaters are placentals (give birth to near-fully developed offspring). See also: Anteater fossil enigma.

Did Anteaters eat ants before the Fall

iStockphoto Honey

Many would say they did not, as there was no animal death before Adam sinned. However, while certainly there was no death of any nephesh chayyāh (היח שפנ), or “living creatures/souls”, before the Fall, which definitely includes the birds, fish, and various animals of the field, the Bible does not definitively say that insects have nephesh life (nor that they don’t). So we can’t be dogmatic on this; i.e. there’s a possibility that anteaters might have eaten ants pre-Fall.6 But they certainly ate green plants too, as Genesis 1:30 makes clear. So the question becomes, how could anteaters eat plants, if they had no teeth?

We get an insight into this from the fact that anteaters eat fruit today. The arboreal silky anteaters and semi-arboreal tamanduas do,4,7 and the fully terrestrial giant anteaters readily eat fallen fruit.8 In fact, San Diego Zoo says: “A special treat for our [giant] anteaters is avocado.”8

Others with experience of keeping tamanduas in captivity advise feeding them a mixture that includes bananas, tomatoes, berries and other fruit. As a ‘treat’, tamanduas apparently love whole melons: “Many love breaking apart the melons themselves for an enrichment activity. They then claw it to mush and lick it up.”7 They apparently love being given honey, too, and in the wild, tamanduas have been observed raiding beehives to obtain the honey—a 100% vegetable product.

iStockphoto anteater-fossil-enigma

Anteater fossil enigma

At one time evolutionists assumed, and taught, that the anteaters were directly evolutionarily related to aardvarks and pangolins because of their physical similarities (‘homology’) to those animals. However, when they realized that, despite their similarities, they couldn’t have evolved from the same class of animals, they explained that this is the result of independent ‘convergent evolution’. This is a dodge—an ‘explanation’ that is often proffered when the evidence is particularly unkind to evolution. It hardly ‘rescues’ the evolutionary paradigm but in fact makes matters worse, for it now means that design features didn’t just have to ‘evolve’ out of nowhere once, but multiple times. So the ant-eating prowess of numbats, echidnas, pangolins, aarvarks, and anteaters is now ‘explained away’ as ‘convergent evolution’ or homoplasy.

In reality, homoplasy is similarity that cannot be explained by common ancestry (evolution). But the widespread occurrences of such homoplasy, the patterns of similarity seen throughout the living world such as the amazing ant-eating abilities of monotremes, marsupials, and placentals, not only provide evidence of a common designer, but actually resist naturalistic explanations.9 (Does it make sense that the eye, for example, could have arisen independently by evolution some 40–60 different times?10)

And new technologies are making things worse for evolution, not better. For example, assuming evolution, researchers have compared DNA to ‘date’ the origin of modern anteaters, in South America, to between 38 and 54 million years ago. However, this conflicts with the 45-million-year ‘date’ ascribed to a “purported fossil anteater (Eurotamandua)” found in Europe.11 As the researchers mused, their findings “again raise the question of how an anteater reached Europe at a time when South America was isolated from all other continental masses? The only possible response is dispersal, which seems to be very unlikely in the present state of our knowledge of paleobiogeography based on plate tectonic models. Thus, our results … cast doubt on the true belonging of Eurotamandua to Vermilingua.”

In simpler words, ‘evolutionary theory says South America was isolated at the time that anteaters evolved there, so the fossil anteater in Europe can’t be an anteater’. So the researchers “instead suggest the independent and convergent evolution of this enigmatic taxon” and: “Only the discovery of additional specimens will provide us with a better understanding of the evolutionary affinities of this enigmatic fossil.” [Added emphasis.]

In stark contrast, knowing from the Bible that these fossil layers are not a ‘record’ of evolution and extinction over millions of years, but instead date from the global Flood of about 4,500 years ago, puts anteater fossils in a completely different light—wherever they may be found.

Posted on homepage: 10 March 2014

References and notes

  1. Silky anteater pictures and facts, thewebsiteofeverything.com/, acc. 10 October 2011. Return to text.
  2. Bartoz, S. and Cerda, A., Silky Anteater, ben.edu/, accessed 5 September 2012. Return to text.
  3. EDGE: Mammal species information—Pygmy Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), edgeofexistence.org/, accessed 10 October, 2011. Return to text.
  4. Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus), www.wildinfo.net/facts/Silkyanteater.asp, acc. 10 October 2011. Return to text.
  5. Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins? What next?, Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000; creation.com/liger. Return to text.
  6. For further explanation of nephesh chayyah life (‘living creature’ eg. Genesis 2:19), as it relates to this issue, see ch. 6 in  The Creation Answers Book, available via creation.com/store. Return to text.
  7. Living with anteaters: Tamandua caresheet, livingwithanteaters.com/, 9 November 2006. Return to text.
  8. Mammals: Giant anteater, sandiegozoo.org/, 2012. Return to text.
  9. Statham, D., Homology and homoplasy, Creation 34(4):45, 2012. Return to text.
  10. Dawkins, R., The ancestor’s tale: A pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2004, p. 580. Compare Sarfati, J., Giant compound eyes: Half a billion years ago? Creation 34(4):39, 2012. Return to text.
  11. Delsuc, F., Catzeflis, F., Stanhope, M. and Douzery, E., The evolution of armadillos, anteaters and sloths depicted by nuclear and mitochondrial phylogenies: implications for the status of the enigmatic fossil Eurotamandua, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 268:1605–1615, 2001. Return to text.

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