All animals used to the cool confines of forests are facing the ill effects of rising global temperatures. But some animals are facing the impacts of climate change more than others. While these changes are having a dramatic impact on the diverse ecosystems, many animals, including the giant anteaters are acutely suffering as a result of these rapid changes.
While scientists warn that we may have already crossed the tipping point in the fight to save the environment, several species are dangerously close to extinction. The iconic polar bear may have been the first to make it to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, back in 2008. But many animals are now on the verge of extinction as the conditions needed for their survival gradually cease to exist.
The giant anteaters are dependent on the foliage of forests to keep them cool. And when trees are sparse, they are forced to wander further from their habitat. Climate change and deforestation have made them vulnerable.
Giant Anteaters Are Vulnerable To Variation In Temperatures
The giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) cannot regulate their body temperatures as efficiently as other mammals. This is due to their exceptionally slow rate of metabolism. So the shade of the trees and foliage becomes essential to control the body temperature of the anteaters and ensure their survival.
Dense forests serve as thermal shelters for animals like the giant anteater. It keeps the forest warm in the cold winters while protecting its denizens from the harsh sun in summer.
Natives of the South and Central America savannas, the giant anteaters feed in the exposed patches in the network of grasslands, forests, and wetlands. But they return to the sheltered parts of the forest to rest. And that is important for their survival.
Studies have shown that the anteater is a poor regulator of body temperature. The shady patches are vital to its survival, as it cools them down rapidly after they spend extended periods foraging in the open areas of the forest.
The giant anteaters are the biggest of their species and are endotherms. It indicates that they are capable of regulating their body temperatures as mammals, independent of outside temperatures.
But at 90.9F (32.7C), the giant anteaters have the lowest temperatures among placental mammals. The human temperature is 98.6F (37C). They also have a lower ability to facilitate physiological thermoregulation. They compensate for this through behavioral adjustments.
There’s Less Roof Over Their Heads
Aline S. Giroux, ecologist and lead author of a study on the giant anteaters says that the forest patches serve as thermal buffers as they have lower temperatures. This helps them to regulate the rise in their body temperatures.
The forest also shelters the giant anteaters from the rain and cold. Giroux was part of the team that captured, measured, and tagged the giant anteaters in Sau Paulo at the Santa Barbara Ecological Station. Between 2013 and 2017.
An analysis of their movement habits and their home range revealed that the anteaters residing in open forests traveled the most, indicating that the movement was linked to their search for the shelter offered by the forest cover.
A wildfire in the Pantanal wetlands, the largest in the world, destroyed vast areas, equal to the total loss in the last 18 years. Such fires, along with human intervention in the forests, are threatening the existence of many species, including the giant anteater.
Many of these slow creatures perished in the fire as they are slow and sluggish and could not have escaped the fast-moving fire. The loss of forest cover has further affected their population due to the scarcity of food and shelter.
Giroux says that sensitive animals like the giant anteaters are good indicators of climate change and their response will give us a better picture of the fate that is in store for humans within a few years.
Conservation in Brazil has already been stopped due to the policy of President Jair Bolsonaro to decimate the Amazon forest in the name of development. Giroux hopes that people become more aware of the ground realities and act upon them, though it may be too late already.