Range:

Mexico, Central America, and South America

Habitat:

Tropical rain forest, savanna, and thorn scrub

To be a tamandua

A type of anteater, the tamandua (pronounced tuh MAN doo wah) is often called a lesser anteater because it is much smaller than its relative, the giant anteater. This interesting animal is at home both in trees and on the ground. The tamandua is most active at night, often nesting during the day in hollow tree trunks. It has small eyes and poor vision but can hear and smell quite well.

Unique design

A tamandua’s strange looks work to its advantage in its Central and South American forest and scrub habitat. It has thick, coarse fur that is light yellow, tan, brown, or gray. The kinky hair keeps angry ants from reaching the animal’s skin when dining at an anthill.

Many also have a large, black band covering the sides of their body or a black "V" going down their back. The enormous front claws help tamanduas climb. They have four toes on the front feet, with an extra-long claw on the third toe. These long claws cause tamanduas to walk on the outside edges of their front feet so the claws don't dig into their feet! The important claws are also used for defense and when digging for food.

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!
One tamandua's stomach was found to contain more than 1 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.
People living in the Amazon to rid their homes of ants and termites sometimes use tamanduas. Many San Diego Zoo and Safari Park visitors have offered to take a tamandua home with them for the same reason!

San Diego Zoo Global has had tamanduas off and on over the years, beginning with a pair of northern tamanduas in 1932. We have had one tamandua birth, in 1998.

Currently, the San Diego Zoo has a pair of Guyanan tamanduas, a southern tamandua subspecies, named Tipu and Lola; the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a Guyanan tamandua female named Luna. All three live off exhibit but serve as animal ambassadors, meeting Zoo and Safari Park guests up close during animal presentations and making appearances at television stations. You may see one out on a walk, looking for ants.

Keepers say the tamanduas can tell the different ant species apart by their smell, and they only like to eat certain types! Tamanduas like to climb, too (especially palm trees), so while out on a walk or meeting guests, keepers have to keep their tamandua from getting too close to any trees. Otherwise, our animal ambassador just might grab onto a branch with those mighty forearms, and it would be tough to convince him or her to let go!

Both northern and southern tamanduas are classified as species of least concern, with stable populations. Fortunately, tamanduas are able to adapt to a variety of habitats as needed.

You can help us bring other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.