With the common trait of having no teeth, these three foraging animals are united under the taxonomic order Edentata. The hormiguero (great anteater), up to a meter long, is the largest of Honduras ’s anteaters, followed by the more common tamandu (lesser anteater) and the smaller silky anteater, which rarely ventures out of trees and is seen infrequently. Anteaters spend much of their lives prowling the forests at a leisurely pace in search of ants and termites. After ripping up a termite or ant mound with its strong forearms and sharp claws, the anteater probes the mound with its most unusual tongue, a sticky appendage up to half a meter long that gathers up ants by the dozen. Biologists have estimated that anteaters can munch upwards of 30,000 ants a day.
To defend themselves against the vicious stinging ants that live in Honduras’s forests, anteaters have remarkably tough fur and hides, which local campesinos insist cannot be cut through by a machete. While not particularly agile or speedy, the anteater is known to defend itself so well with its vicious hooked claws that even jaguars prefer to look for easier prey.
Also subsisting on a steady diet of ants and termites, with a few other insects thrown in for variety, are two species of armadillo, the cusuco (nine-banded) and pitero de uña (naked tailed). Looking like baby dinosaurs, these curious creatures are equipped with calcified armor plates to defend themselves from attack as they waddle their ungainly way around the forest floor. A larger ancestor of the armadillo, the glyptodon, once lived in Honduras , as evidenced by fossils found near Gracias, Lempira.
If armadillos and anteaters seem unusual, the sloth is downright hilarious. Inching its way in slow motion along the undersides of tree branches in the perpetual quest for more leaves, the sloth is certainly the most relaxed mammal you’re likely to run across in the forest. With an unusually slow metabolism, sloths simply don’t have much get up and go. What stirs biologists to wonderment is that these proverbially lazy animals, seemingly so badly adapted to the pitiless wild, have managed to survive to the present day! Sloths are a favorite target of jaguars and harpy eagles, which literally pluck them out of trees. Perhaps to help keep an eye out for this constant threat, the sloth has an extra neck vertebra, allowing it to peer directly over its own back. And with their algae-covered fur and slow movement, the animals are difficult for predators to spot.
Two species live in Honduras , the perezoso de dos dedos (two-toed sloth) and the perezoso de tres dedos (three-toed sloth). Despite the extra digit, the three-toed sloth is the slower of the two. Sloths come down from their tree homes every week or so to take their toilette, relieving themselves of some 30 percent of their body weight into a carefully prepared hole, which the sloth neatly covers with leaves before climbing back up for the rest of the week. While sloths are slow movers in the trees, on the ground they are practically invalids, barely capable of locomotion. A sloth clawing its way laboriously along the ground, over to a tree, and up the trunk to the safety of the branches looks like an actor in a really bad melodramatic movie, gravely wounded but still valiantly struggling across the ground. Because they are so easy to hunt, the inoffensive sloth has not fared well at the hands of man and is now seen only in more remote areas like Sierra de Agalta in Olancho or the Mosquitia.