No Teeth, Long Tongue, No Problem – Adaptations for Ant-eating

A rigorous ant diet plus convergent evolution leads to cool adaptations. When different organisms have a alike trait, one potential explanation is that they inherited the trait from a shared ancestor. For example, cats and lizards both have four limbs because the concluding park ancestor of cats and lizards had four limbs. however, some traits arise by convergent development, meaning that a exchangeable trait evolved independently in two groups whose concluding coarse ancestor did not parcel that trait. An model of this is flight in birds and bats—it ’ s been over 300 million years since the reptile linage leading to birds separate from the mammal branch leading to bats, and that ancient, heavy-set lizard-ish ancestor decidedly didn ’ t fly. consequently, dame and squash racket wings are the result of convergent evolution, meaning each group has evolved wings independently .
Finding examples of convergent evolution is of concern to many biologists because it helps us uncover patterns in how structures evolve. Although they both have wings, birds and bats construct those wings very differently and use them in different ways. Studying these kinds of convergent traits lets us explore the kingdom of what ’ s potential ( both feathers and skin-flaps supported by the arms can be used for flight ) and what ’ second credibly not ( for model, we haven ’ t found any animals that fly by modifying their tails into propellers ) .
As an evolution swot, my all-time front-runner kind of overlap involves mammals that are highly specialize ant- and termite-eaters. Ants and termites are an interesting food beginning for large mammals because they ’ re so bantam that an animal has to eat thousands to get any nutrition at all. Luckily, both ants and termites are closely-related social insects that live in huge colonies/lunch buffets ! Species that prey on these insects have evolved many times throughout the mammal family tree, and they partake some bizarre adaptations that let them thrive on their specialized diet. here are a few of my favorites :

Giant anteater
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Fig. 1 A giant star aardvark ( Myrmecophaga tridactyla ) displaying its specialize spit. Image source : Wikimedia Commons .
giant anteaters are amazing creatures found in Central and South american english forests and savannah. ( even though they are called “ anteaters ”, they besides consume termites ! ) Their ant-based diet differs from that of their closest relatives, the sloths, who are dedicated plant-eaters. Since they don ’ t need to chew their raven, giant anteaters have long narrow skulls, extremely sparse jaw, and no tooth. They feed by using their enormous front claw to rip open termite mounds and tear bark off of tree trunks, then deploying their long gluey tongues to snag the insects inside. These anteaters have special muscular structure that allows them to flick their tongues in and out over 150 times per minute ! [ 1 ] .
Aardvark
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Fig. 2 The aardvark ( Orycteropus afer ) is another ant and termite specialist with a scientifically adorable snout. Image source : Heather Paul via Flickr .
The aardvark is another ant and termite specialist that shares many traits with the elephantine numbat, such as powerful forelimbs and a long, sticky tongue. however, aardvarks belong to a much older branch of the mammal family tree, and these exchangeable features are a resultant role of convergent evolution. Aardvarks eatage for termites on the African savannah, and scientists used to assume they were most close refer to giant anteaters and sloths. however, new studies indicate that aardvarks parcel a common ancestor with other african mammals such as manatees, elephants, and hyraxes [ 2 ]. Like the anteaters, they use herculean forelimbs to dig exposed termite mounds, have retentive conic skulls, and snag termites with their gluey prehensile tongues ; unlike the anteaters, they actually have teeth ! however, these teeth lack enamel ( the hard out surface that protects the tooth from damage ) and are highly indulgent. Rather than chew its food, the aardvark has a muscular stomach that acts like a gizzard to grind up insects after swallowing [ 3 ] .
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Fig. 3 The aardwolf ( Proteles cristata ) is like the hyena ’ s smaller cousin who won ’ thymine stop talking about how capital it feels on this perplex all-insect diet. Image reference : Dominik Käuferle via Wikipedia .
Despite its exchangeable name, the aardwolf is separated from its fellow termite specialist the aardvark by millions of years of evolution. This african mammal belongs to the hyena family ( separate of the larger group Carnivora that includes dogs, cats, and bears ), and it looks like a travel-sized, pointy-faced, less baleful hyena. apart from their acute canine dentition ( used by and large for looking bully and defending territory ), aardwolves have tiny reduced tooth nubs where their bone-cracking relatives have terrifying blade-like molars. Their skulls are besides long, flat, and weaker than a hyena ’ mho. Like the giant anteaters and aardvarks, aardwolves use long gluey tongues to consume entirely termites [ 3 ] .
These three mammals are precisely a few examples of species that have convergently evolved specializations for feeding on ants and termites—there are many more ! Ant-eating is a bang-up model of convergence because it has evolved multiple times in very distantly related animals. In each case, species show alike adaptations to their specialized diet, including long conic skulls, reduced or absent teeth, and exceptional tongues. These traits make sense when you think about the running demands of their diets—they need to be able to insert their snouts into worm colonies and slurp up thousands of insects casual in order to survive on such bantam prey, but they don ’ t need to bite very hard or chew very much.

Finding these connections between body shape, behavior, and diet is my favored function of studying evolutionary biota in animals. When extreme modifications like this pop up in different parts of the mammal tree, it ’ s always interesting to think about why a detail laid of traits is well suited to a certain prey strategy. many animals eat insects as all or part of their diet, but these convergent ant and termite specialists have taken it to a unharmed new flush .
If convergent evolution lights your fire, tell us your darling model of a convergent trait in the comments and we can discuss it !
References :

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