All Over the Place: Anteaters & Ants
Issue 3: Zoo Opole
Some animals are simply fascinating to watch. Echidnas waddle back and forth as they move. Wombats are adorable. Pandas move as if they are people wearing panda costumes. And anteaters - well, the more you look at an anteater the more you realize they are very unusual animals.
I was lucky enough to see a pair of anteaters at Zoo Opole in Opole, Poland. Zoo Opole has two species of anteater: the giant anteater and the tamandua. While the tamanduas were hiding, their giant anteaters were very active, roaming their separate enclosures.
The first thing you notice about an anteater is its size. At the shoulder they’re a bit taller than my knee, and they’re about six feet long, with close to half of that length being a big broom-like tail. Adults can weigh as much as a small adult human. Their heads are about a foot long with tiny ears. And they walk on their knuckles instead of the large claws that they use to rip open anthills, with the two anteaters at the zoo each walking in a figure eight pattern with occasional breaks.
Scientists have found that they’re even stranger than their looks let on. Their tongues can be twice as long as their heads, and they don’t have teeth. Their internal body temperature is only 91 degrees Fahrenheit (32.7 degrees Celsius). They can eat 30,000 insects a day, but instead of producing their own stomach acid to digest them, anteaters rely on the formic acid naturally produced by the ants they eat.
In another section of the zoo is a creative exhibit that houses a colony of thousands of leafcutter ants (although to avoid tempting fate, it is far away from the anteaters). Instead of simply keeping the ants in a terrarium, their enclosure is connected to a second one by a very long clear pipe, giving visitors a good view of industrious ants carrying pieces of leaves on a long journey back to their nest. I just wonder what all the ones not carrying anything are doing.
The zoo also had more typical zoo exhibits, including big cats, gorillas, and animals that you’ve heard are incredibly tenacious but look like they just want to read a book in front of a fire (wolverine, cough cough).
Zoos seem to be something that people think of visiting when they travel locally but not as much when they’re abroad (with some exceptions). Maybe it’s because zoos often have the same animals, or maybe it’s because zoos are already international wherever you are. One of the benefits of living abroad instead of just visiting is that you have enough time to visit the places that don’t necessarily embody a place but are still visited by lots of people.
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