Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 1.8 to 2.9 feet (53 to 88 centimeters)
Tail length: 1.3 to 1.9 feet (40 to 59 centimeters)
Weight: 4.5 to 17 pounds (2.1 to 7.7 kilograms)
Life span: 8 to 12 years
Gestation: 5 months
Number of young at birth: 1
Weight at birth: 13.3 ounces (380 grams)
Age of maturity: 1.5 years
Conservation status: lower risk
• A smelly scent gives tamanduas the nickname "stinkers of
the forest." The animal can spray a foul-smelling secretion
said to be four times more powerful than a skunk's!
• A tamandua's stomach was found to contain more than one pound (0.45 kilograms) of ants.
• At 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius), tamanduas have one of the lowest body temperatures of any active land mammal.
• Tamanduas are sometimes used by people living in the Amazon to rid their homes of ants and termites. Many San Diego Zoo visitors have offered to take a tamandua home with them for the same reason!
Mammals: Tamandua or Lesser Anteater
To be a tamandua
A type of anteater, tamanduas (pronounced tuh MAN deh wahs) are often called lesser anteaters because they are much smaller than their relatives, the giant anteaters. These interesting animals are at home both in trees and on the ground. Tamanduas are most active at night, often nesting during the day in hollow tree trunks. They have small eyes and poor vision but can hear and smell quite well.
Tamanduas have thick, coarse fur that is light yellow, tan, brown, or gray. The kinky hair keeps angry ants from reaching the tamandua's skin when it dines at an anthill. Many also have a large, black band covering the sides of their body. Northern tamanduas Tamandua mexicana have a black "V" going down their backs, while southern tamanduas Tamandua tetradactyla do not. The enormous front claws help the tamandua climb. They have four toes on the front feet, with an extra-long claw on the third toe. These long claws cause the tamandua to walk on the outside edges of its front feet so the claws don't dig into the animal's foot! The important claws are also used for defense and when digging for food.
A tamandua's prehensile tail comes in handy for spending time in the trees. The underside and end of the tail is hairless; the tail is used like an extra hand or foot while climbing. Tamanduas also use their tail for balance and as an anchor when they go into a defensive position. And the thick tail makes a great pillow when sleeping in a log!
What smells funny?
Several predators—jaguars, birds of prey, and small cats like the margay—would love to make a meal out of a tamandua if it weren't so stinky! The bad smell lets other animals know where it is and usually sends them in the opposite direction. If a predator does get too close, the tamandua may hiss and then release a very unpleasant odor from a gland at the base of its tail, similar to a skunk's. The tamandua's powerful forearms and claws can also be used for defense. If it feels threatened while in a tree, the tamandua holds onto a branch with its hind feet and tail so its arms and long claws are free to fight.
Time for a protein snack
A specialized mouth and tongue let tamanduas eat up to 9,000 ants in a single day! Tamanduas don't have teeth to chew their food; instead, their stomach grinds the food after it is swallowed. A 16-inch-long (41-centimeter) sticky tongue with small barbs on it is just right for stealing ants and termites from their homes. The tamandua's mouth is only as round as a pencil, but it can also lick up honey and soft, juicy fruits. A powerful sense of smell helps the animal find food, like a termite mound. The tamandua feeds only a short time at each nest so it won't get many bites. This also makes sure there are plenty of snacks at the same location the next time! At the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the tamanduas are fed a high-protein powder mixed with water, and honey and fruit as treats.
The normally solitary tamandua will look for a mate around the fall season. One baby is born in the springtime and is cared for only by the mother. The new baby does not resemble the parents very much, as its coat is a solid color, but its eyes are open and it has those giant claws. It spends the first part of its life on the mother's back; she will place her baby on a safe branch for a short time while she looks for food.