One of only four species of anteater found in the world, the northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) is found throughout southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. They can be identified through their distinct coloration, with tan fur and a black, vest-shaped marking over the back and sides. Northern tamanduas are smaller than their giant anteater cousins, but can still reach over 1 meter (3.3 ft) in length including their long tails and weigh up to 5.4 kg (11.9 lbs).
As largely arboreal residents and hunters, tamanduas are well-adapted for life in the trees; their clawed feet- four claws on the front “hands” and five on the back feet, which can reach up to 10 cm (4 inches) in length- aid in climbing and gripping branches, as does their partially hairless, prehensile tail. Their diet consists almost entirely of insects, including ants and termites, which they scoop out of nests and holes in trees with their long, sticky tongues. To protect themselves from predators, tamanduas have a scent gland at the base of their tail and can release a powerful, skunk-like scent when threatened. As they are nocturnal, tamanduas are most threatened by other nocturnal predators, such as raptors or large cats like the jaguar.
Tamanduas are solitary animals and tend to mate in the fall. After a gestation period of up to 190 days, the female tamandua gives birth to a single live young, or more rarely to twins. The young tamandua will live with its mother for up to a year, often clinging to her back as she moves about the forest, before leaving to establish a life of its own.
Northern tamanduas are one of two related species, with the southern tamandua, or collared anteater, being found throughout South America. The name comes from the Portuguese word “tamanduá” meaning anteater.
To Learn More:
- World Land Trust Fund information on northern tamanduas.
- The story of the northern tamandua at the Belize Zoo .
- Animary Diversity.org information on Northern tamanduas
article by Kayla Windelspecht