Aneater (Tamandua) - Costa Rica's Termite Killers

Anteater (Tamandua)

October 7th, 2013 by Anamaya Resort

Biology

Of the three anteater species in Costa Rica, the Northern Tamandua, or Lesser anteater as it is often called; is the most commonly spotted type of anteater. The Tamandua will grow to be about two feet long and weigh approximately ten pounds. It’s about half the size of the Giant anteater and has a broad black vest with a naked, prehensile tail. The northern tamandua is active by day or night, but its rarely active for more than eight hours at once. The tamandua may forages in trees or on the ground, but appears to keep a consistent preference for either of the two. They feed on termites which are found in tree trunks throughout the lowlands, and ants, and at times even deadly bees. Tamandua’s that tend to spend more time in trees eat more ants than termites, and those that are more terrestrial eat more termites than ants. This peculiar variation in diet is said to be nature’s way of helping reduce competition between neighboring tamanduas. Adult tamanduas consume, on average, 9,000 ants and termites, scavenging through 50 to 80 colonies daily.

The lesser anteater is a tree-inhabiting creature that deftly meanders through branches using its prehensile tail. Their bodies are coated with gold or tan and black fur similar to a panda and they can weigh up to 18 pounds. Huge front claws help the lesser anteater climb trees since they have an extra long claw on the third toe used for digging and defence. Lesser anteaters use their prehensile tails for balancing on the treetops and as an anchor when they go into a defensive posture. The lesser anteater is predominantly nocturnal and spends around 40% of its time on trees. Awkward and graceless on the ground, the tamandua is not capable of the speed of its larger counterpart, the giant anteater.

Tamanduas can be easily distinguished other rainforest mammals owing to their peculiar appearance and black coat on the body. They are distinct both in appearance and lifestyle. The name Tamandua comes from the combination of two Tupi Indian words: “Taa”, meaning ant, and “Mandeu”, meaning trap.

Tamandua will often attack large nests connected to limbs or inside tree trunks, using their extremely strong forearms and foreclaws to rip a nest open, in order to search it further with their long, sticky tongues, which are capable of extruding approximately 16 inches. Like the Giant anteater, the tamandua will try and avoid ants and termites with particularly pointed bodies, large jaws, or smelly chemicals, such as leaf-cutting or army ants. For example, termite soldiers who patrol the edge of the nest, have nozzle-shaped heads through which they squirt a sticky, nasty tasting secretion that smells strongly of turpentine. For this reason, tamanduas attack nests instantly and move on before too many soldier ants are able to put up adequate defence . The gestation of the tamandua is approximately 225 days, as females give birth to a single young about once a year. The young generally look much different from the adults, fluctuating from entirely off-white to black. The young ones are left in the den during the nursing period while the mother forages for her babies. Although the young will begin to take solid food after approximately 3 months, it will continue to feed off its mother till it’s about a year old. A young tamandua will be on its own when they are nearly half the size of the mother.

Anteaters need to move around much more than most mammals their size in order to deal with feisty ant and termite defences and need habitats that tend to be fairly large. Although tamandua are sometimes hunted for sport and for their pelts, they are not a primary game animal. They can however be extremely susceptible to human disturbances. With combined factors of needing a large habitat, human disturbance, and slow reproductive numbers, the tamandua of Costa Rica are almost on the verge of undergoing the same fate as their larger cousins, the Giant anteaters.

The Anteater is diurnally active and has an acute penchant for an arboreal way of life. It can scamper rapidly through the trees, bleeding with its forelimbs and using even his tail to make easier the locomotion. Their tail is very prehensile and strong supporting the entire weight of the animal. The gestation in this animal takes approximately 225 days. Intervals between births can range from 2 to 3 years. Lactation demands during the first year of the infant ´s life induce lactation, and the female generally will not begin to cycle again until the weaning concludes.

When it is one year old the young animal weighs approximately 500g. It stays under the intimate protection of the mother for the first three months of its life. Initially it is carried ventrally and about 1.5 to 2 months it begins to ride dorsally in the mother ´s body. The young will proceed to feeding off its mother until it is close to 1 year of age, although at this age it has begun its solid food intake. The weaning process is rather slow, with solid foods being taken from about three months of age on. The age of weaning is possibly in part a business of the alimentary situation of the mother and her young one. Since the female produces only a single young and the gestation period is changeable and extended, the reproductive rate of Tamanduain in thw the wild is abysmally low. Thus wild populations of Tamandua are slow to recover from any form of hunting. It appears that the genus Tamandua is extremely prone to human encroachment of the habitat, and it may be among the first primate species to decline with major disturbance on its habitat.

Where To Spot Them

Tamanduas frequently inhabit both lowland and mountain forests ranging from southern Mexico to northwestern South America. In Costa Rica they are the last remaining mammals in several patches of the forest. Solitary tamanduas have been regularly seen along the forest edge and throughout the 170-acre reserve at Casa Corcovado. Some places where these primates can be spotted include forest zones behind guest rooms/bungalows, the grassy areas above the trail which lead to the beaches and at the edge of the beach areas, in addition to the track to San Pedrillo ranger station.

Anamaya guests can spot these intriguing mammals while enjoying their morning trails towards the canopies at dawn while waiting to kick start their famed bird watching tours. Costa Rica visitors can spot these creatures at the Braulio Carrillo National Park, the Carara National Park, the Corcovado National Park, the La Marta Wildlife Refuge and the Santa Rosa National Park among others. Since these creatures are adaptable inhabitants, they can be easily spotted along the beach side and forest ranges of Montezuma.

In Costa Rica, the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is found almost exclusively on the Osa Peninsula, while the lesser anteater can be spotted throughout the country. The lesser anteater generally lives near rivers and areas dense with vegetation. Notable locations include Barra Honda National Park,Palo Verde National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. Guests can set off on a wildlife spotting tour with the help of an expert guide to be able to fully appreciate these and other species of Montezuma.

Anamaya visitors should not be fooled by the Tamandua’s unruffled mannerisms. When cornered Tamanduas will put up a fierce fight to defend themselves. They brace themselves upright using their tail as a counterbalance and swing their sharp claws aggressively in the direction of their enemy. Giant Anteaters defend themselves similarly and are known to kill large animals, including jaguars, when defending themselves from an attack.