NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – This week we give you a behind-the-scenes look at an animal that you won’t see on exhibit right now – the Giant Anteater. The Nashville Zoo is working to increase the number of these animals that are native to Honduras, Brazil, and northern Argentina.

One of their most recent additions is “Esteban”, a male Giant Anteater pup.

“He is our 22nd anteater pup born here at the Nashville Zoo. We currently have eleven anteaters here in our facility,” explained MJ Foletta, Nashville Zoo Carnivore Keeper.

“We are one of the leading facilities in Giant Anteater care. And we really help in kind of molding how other zoological facilities in North America how to take care of these guys. And if they have questions, we have Dr. Margarita with us today who’s actually one of the lead veterinarians as far as this specific species goes. So, we’re very, very lucky to have not only the facilities and amazing staff but to take care of these all-around amazing animals.”

“This is the third baby that Dulce has had,” Foletta said. “So, she’s a pretty experienced mom. Overall, this has been a very easy experience. We have not had to intervene at all, other than we pull him off of her once a week and we get a weight. And we check how much he’s been growing. We try to make sure that everything is developing as it should. So far, we have been perfect. It has been amazing.”

Along with ultrasounds on the adults to observe pregnancy, the data they collect on the pups is helpful to other zoological organizations. “Part of the reason why we are taking those measurements is we do help get that information to them,” Foletta pointed out. “So, if they find a baby in the wild, they can better estimate ‘how old is this?’ based off of certain measurements.”

And if you are curious about the anteater’s long snout and tongue and how they eat ants – their tongue has a lot to do with it.

“30-40 thousand bugs in one single day. Their tongues can get two feet in length,” Foletta explained. “It is insane how much they can eat in a matter of minutes.”

Anteaters have no teeth, they just have really sticky saliva on their tongues. “It helps them eat a ton of bugs a day.”

So how are they immune to ant bites?

“These guys have this really sticky saliva that honestly helps keep their tongues very well protected,” Foletta pointed out. “As someone who’s been licked by them multiple times, I can wash my hands all day. It’s going to take a day or two to get ll that stickiness off. So, it really helps coat and protect that tongue, specifically against ant bites.”

And these creatures have a way to stay safe from predators in the wild. “When I put him back on her, you’ll see that I just put him back on his mother’s back and his stripes will line up with hers to help them camouflage. And that will help kind of keep him safe in the wild, while he’s kind of just a limp little noodle hanging on to mom’s back.”

One reason the Giant Anteaters are currently not on display is that there is no particular time of the day that they are active, and hence good for viewing. In the future, they hope to include them in their Tapir exhibit. Tapirs are also from South America and are compatible with Giant Anteaters.