Wild Imagination

(A documentary series by Jesse Welton)

The Saber-Toothed Anteater

One is often struck with a sense of awe at the diversity of life that has evolved on Earth. Such a variety of forms exists that it is hard not to think that some of them are just plain weird. The giant squid lurks in the depths of the sea, where no one can see it, and yet it is capable of changing its color. All over the globe there is a vast array of bizarre insects constantly devouring one another. Weak, hairless apes destroy themselves and their environment at every opportunity. Poodles. Even stranger animals existed in the past, but most of them are dead. Giant sand fleas twelve feet long once roamed the Earth in herds of hundreds. Now they provide nearly one third of the world's natural oil supply.

Perhaps one of the strangest animals to have ever existed, or even never existed, was the saber-toothed anteater. Three and a half feet long and weighing nearly sixty pounds when fully grown, this gigantic beast sported a foot-long snout and eleven-inch fangs. The saber-toothed anteater struck fear into all those it called "food".

Modern-day anteaters have a narrow snout and a long tongue that they use to eat small insects. With its powerful claws, an anteater can rip a hole in an anthill or termite mound. It then extends its tongue deep into the tunnels of the insects. The insects, sticking to the tongue are then drawn back into the anteater's mouth and consumed.

The saber-toothed anteater had the same long snout and small mouth that today's anteaters have. It also shared the same strong claws for ripping into mounds of dirt. Compared its modern-day cousins, however, the saber-toothed anteater had a considerably shorter tongue, which barely reached the tip of its mouth. Because of this shortcoming, it had great difficulty extracting insects from the ground. It could use its fangs to help root up more of the ground, but more often than not this just got the anteater's fangs inextricably stuck in the ground. An anteater, thus immobilized, quickly starved to death, or was eaten by a passing predator.

The fangs of the saber-toothed anteater grew continuously, so they had to be ground down and sharpened daily on any available rocks. Because of the extreme hardness of the teeth, the rocks often wore away faster than the fangs themselves. As a result, the saber-toothed anteater was forced to migrate as the supply of rocks dwindled in any given location. Packs of saber-toothed anteaters might wander aimlessly for hours before finding a new patch of rocks to sharpen their teeth on. Some theorists believe that it was the working of hundreds of thousands of huge saber-toothed anteaters that turned a significant portion of the world's bedrock into sand. Others, however, do not.

In addition to these problems, the saber-toothed anteater is thought to have been extremely stupid. Incapable of telling an anthill or termite mound from a pile of dirt, or a hill, saber-toothed anteaters would root for food at random on any slope. Hills would often be completely covered by raging, hungry anteaters. The consequent difficulty of obtaining actual food required the saber-toothed anteater spent at least two thirds of its time every day searching for food. Additionally, it had to spend approximately one third of its time every day grinding its fangs. It is hypothesized that saber-toothed anteaters were very tired.

Because the saber-toothed anteater kept its fangs extremely sharp, it is reasonable to suppose that they provided a natural defense against predators. Ironically, this is not the case. Because of its long snout, the saber-toothed anteater lacked the strength and flexibility required to use its fangs in self defense. More often than not, the fangs would get caught in the ground and actively prevent the animal from defending itself. For this reason, the animal's best protection was a thick coat of fur. Unfortunately, it didn't have one.

Primitive man hunted the saber-toothed anteater both for its fangs and because an anteater stuck in the ground was an exceptionally easy target. Due to their hardness and sharpness, the fangs could be used for a variety of purposes. Among these were such daily tasks as carving wooden instruments, cutting hair, shaving, and killing more saber-toothed anteaters. After shaving with saber-toothed anteater fangs, primitive men were relieved to discover that anteater hide made excellent bandages.

Due to the dual difficulties of obtaining food and being hunted for its fangs, the saber-toothed anteater was exceedingly unfit for survival in the modern world. Most archaeologists now believe that it consequently became extinct so rapidly that it never even existed.

Until next time, wait for the next product of my Wild Imagination.

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