Trivia Tuesday: Tamanduas

Credit: Linda Lombardi
Hey buddy, why the long face?

On Tuesdays we'll share a few fun animal facts with you from experts all over the country.

Today's expert: Harrison Edell, General Curator at the Sacramento Zoo, and coordinator for AZA’s Southern Tamandua Species Survival Plan.

Did you know there's more than one kind of anteater? The giant anteater that you've probably seen at the zoo has several smaller relatives. One of them is the tamandua or lesser anteater.

  • There are two species of tamandua, found in Central and South America. They've got bodies about two feet long and weigh an average of around twelve pounds. Compare that to their giant cousins, which are easily 100 pounds.
  • Tamanduas are largely arboreal — that is, they live in trees. They've got such long front claws for climbing that they have to walk on the sides of their feet, which have paw pads on the sides instead of the bottoms.
  • They've also got a prehensile tail with no hair on the underside — all the better to grab onto branches when moving around the canopy.
  • Tamanduas also use their strong claws to dig into ant and termite nests for their food, and their tongue is specialized for gathering that diet. It's 16 inches long  — as long as their tail — and covered with sticky saliva and barbs. They have no teeth, so their food is ground up by their muscular stomach.
  • Tamanduas look sweet and inoffensive, but those claws can also be a weapon. They'll anchor themselves by hanging on with their prehensile tail and raise their claws to defend themselves. These guys may not be large, but their arms are strong from all that digging and climbing, and walking on the side of their feet keeps their claws sharp, so watch out!
  • The tamandua smells a bit musky, and as another means of defense, they can release their odor from glands at the base of their tail like a skunk (and some think it smells much worse).
  • It was once thought that anteaters were related to aardvarks, which have a similar diet and appearance, but now they're classified in separate families. The closest relatives of anteaters are more surprising: they're the sloths and armadillos.
  • Eating ants might seem like a simple way of life, but anteaters actually use a lot of strategy. They feed at a given nest only briefly, stopping before the colony's soldiers can mobilize to defend it.
  • These brief meals also give the population of each ant nest time to recover. This is important because anteaters are territorial, so they have to be careful not to exhaust the food supply in a limited area.

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