Of the anteater found in Castilla del Oro and in other parts of the Mainland.

Translated by Kendal Simmons ’23

The anteater is an animal found in many parts of the Mainland, especially in Castilla del Oro. Its fur is similar to that of any bear and it has a short tail with fur on top and underneath it, but not on the sides. Anteaters look very similar to the bears of Spain, with the exception of their heads, because their snouts are so much longer; they have a much tinier mouth, out of which they stick out their tongue, which is as big as a scutching knife and of a similar shape. Also, they have very poor eyesight. Since they are not dangerous, these anteaters are often killed with clubs; dogs catch them and kill them easily if the hunters do not come to their aid first, because they do not know how to defend themselves nor do they have the means to do so, though they sometimes bite. They are found most often in the meadows and flatlands, near the anthills of very small black ants, where these ants naturally breed away from the forest to get away from the anteaters. Since they are cowardly and unarmed, they wander around groves and thickets until the hunger or desire to graze on ants makes them go out to the meadows to look for them. These ants make mounds as tall as a man, sometimes taller or a bit shorter, and as thick as an ark or a cask; or sometimes like a barrel, and as hard as a rock, and they look like the milestones that divide or mark a territory. Underneath the hard soil from which the mounds are made there are innumerable (Illus. 5a, fig. 1.a) or an almost infinite number of very tiny ants that can be picked up by the bushel after breaking the mound. After these mounds are soaked by rain and then dried by the sun, sometimes the outer shell will begin to crack, which results in very thin gaps and crevices; these cracks are even thinner than the edge of a very fine blade. And it seems as if nature bestowed upon these ants the ability to find some kind of mud that allows them to make a mound so hard that it seems to be made from an extremely strong mortar. In order to understand this secret better, I have had some of these mounds broken and demolished in my presence, and I could not believe how hard they were without having seen it for myself; even with iron picks, mattocks, and handspikes, they are still very hard to knock down. As it has been said, the ants make these mounds in order to protect themselves from the anteater, who is the one that principally feeds and subsists on the ants and is considered their adversary, fulfilling the common proverb: there is no creature so free that it lacks its constable.

This constable that nature assigned to such a tiny animal fulfills its purpose as their executioner in this way: the anteater goes to the anthill and inserts its tongue through a crack as thin as the edge of a blade, and by licking continuously it dampens the crack, no matter how thin it may be; its saliva has such properties and its perseverance in licking is so steady that little by little it widens the crack, and when the anteater deems it fit, it sticks its tongue in and out of the anthill. And the tongue is very long (in proportion to the body) and thin. After deliberately widening the crack, the anteater sticks as much of its tongue as it can into the hole that it just made and stays in that position, quietly, for a long time. And because the anthill has many ants and those ants are drawn to moisture, they stick to the anteater’s tongue in huge quantities, so many that they could be grabbed with both hands or by the fistful. When the anteater seems satisfied with how many ants it has, it promptly removes its tongue and pulls it back into its mouth, eats the ants, and returns for more. By doing this, the anteater eats all the ants that it wants and can fit on its tongue. The meat of this animal is dirty and tastes foul, but as the misfortunes and necessities of the Spanish in these parts were extreme at the beginning, it has not been left untasted; but no delicacy has been as readily abhorred as this one after being tasted by the Christians. These anthills have a tiny entrance on the ground that can be found with much difficulty by watching some of the ants enter and exit, but the anteater cannot get to them through there, nor will it deliberately attack them through there as it does when it goes through the cracks at the top of the anthill. There are other animals that eat ants in the same way, and the Christians call them by the same name throughout the mountains and lands of Bogotá, which the Spanish call New Granada and others call the land of Alcázares[1]; however, those other anteaters have very black tails, which makes me think it is another species of animal. To reiterate, the way that they eat ants has caused them to receive the same name as the anteaters described here. Those are also found in the province of Venezuela, where they are very powerful, so strong that they have been known to knock over a horse rider and injure him. In the year 1541, while the reverend Lord Bishop Don Rodrigo de Bastidas was visiting that province, one of these anteaters died and they discovered the sturdy bones of its arms and legs, which I heard from the bishop himself.[2]


[1] All of the words and syllables that are underlined have been provided by following the meaning of the text, due to the original codex being damaged in this part.

[2] As half of this line was ripped in the original manuscript, it is no longer possible to provide the last words of this chapter in their entirety.