Tamanduas are not likely to
be confused with any other rainforest mammal. They certainly are
unique both in appearance and lifestyle. The name Tamandua comes for
the union of two Tupi Indian words: "Taa", meaning ant, and "Mandeu",
Their long snout, long
prehensile tail, massive hand claws, and the black "vest" they
appear to wear draped on a white background make Tamanduas
unmistakable in Costa Rica's forests.
These are by far the most common anteaters in the country. Costa
Rica is also home to the huge Giant Anteater and the tiny Silky
Anteater, both of which are rarely seen.
Apart from these two
anteaters, Tamanduas are most closely related to sloths and
armadillos. They are grouped together because they lack any real
teeth. Anteaters are the only ones, however, that have absolutely no
teeth. In fact, their mouth can only open to about the diameter of a
pencil! This leaves the Tamandua just enough room to stick out its
very long, sticky tongue.
A Tamandua's tongue can
measure up to 40 centimeters and is covered with bristly hairs that
point towards the mouth. They also have a huge salivary gland that
keeps the tongue wet and sticky. When they are foraging, Tamanduas
rip into logs, trees, and termite mounds with their massive claws
and lap up any fleeing ants and termites. They are also fond of
eating bees and their honey.
Studies have shown that
some Tamanduas are more arboreal while others are mostly terrestrial.
Terrestrial Tamanduas tend to eat more termites, while arboreal ones
are more prone to eat ants.
Because of their unique diet, their
stomach has a muscular gizzard that aids them in grinding up their
They tend to avoid ants with
spiky bodies or strong defense mechanisms. When a Tamandua forages,
they generally spend only a few minutes at each nest. This way, they
can eat in relative peace before the soldiers from the colony mount
an attack. Once this happens they move on.
Tamanduas usually forage
in a straight line, ensuring they do not visit the same nest twice.
This strategy not only helps them avoid the nasty soldier ants, but
also allows nests to regenerate so the anteater can return in a few
days and plunder it anew. When not at rest, they are almost always
on the move.
is why seeing a Tamandua on the Night Tour, or anywhere in nature,
is always a chance encounter and such a treat. Normally when we do
encounter them they just go about their business, apparently
oblivious to our presence. Many times they walk down the trail,
right next to the group.
be fooled by this tranquil demeanor. When cornered Tamanduas will
fiercely defend themselves. They prop themselves upright using their
tail as a counterbalance and swing their sharp claws violently.
Giant Anteaters defend themselves the same way and are rumored to
kill large animals, including jaguars, when defending themselves
from an attack.
An encounter with a Tamandua can happen during the day or at night.
Every individual anteater in a study carried out in Panama was active for about
eight hours, but each kept a different schedule than the rest.
little is know about the reproductive habits of Tamanduas. They
breed late in the rainy season and females have a gestation period
lasting 130 to 190 days. Females normally give birth to one
offspring, usually towards the end of dry season, although twins
have also been documented.
While foraging, females hide their young in dens and
return to them when they have finished. They move their young to other
dens from time to time, but it is rare to see a female moving about
with her baby.
We were fortunate enough to see this once during a Night Tour.
The baby Tamandua was clinging on to the mother's lower back as she
moved through the trees.
Young Tamanduas will stay with their mother until they are about one
Tamanduas have lived over nine years, although in nature their life
span is probably shorter. Predators include Jaguars, Pumas, Harpy
Eagles and other large Hawk-eagles, as well as very large snakes
such as Boa Constrictors.
I was walking
home from the tour one night when I encountered a Northern Tamandua.
It crossed the trail right in front of me and walked directly towards
a palm tree with some coconuts scattered at its base. To my
astonishment, the Tamandua went straight towards one of the
coconuts, ripped it open with its massive claws and proceeded to
drink the coconut water! It is the only time I have observed this
incredible behavior, thankfully I had my phone and I recorded the
incident, check out the video below!
2005 Travellers' Wildlife Guides Costa Rica
Janzen, D. 1983 Costa Rican Natural History
University of Chicago Press