Southern Tamandua or Lesser Anteater, Tamandua tetradactyla, is a species of anteater from South America.
It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats from mature to highly disturbed secondary forests and arid savannas. It feeds on ants, termites and bees. It has very strong fore claws that can be used to break insect nests or to defend.
Tamandua tetradactyla is found in South America from Venezuela and Trinidad to northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay at elevations to 6,565 feet (2000 m).
Tamandua tetradactyla inhabits various wet and dry forests, including tropical rainforest, savanna, and thorn scrub. It seems to be most common in habitats near streams and rivers that are thick with vines and epiphytes
Head and body length ranges from 21.06 to 34.65 inches (535mm to 880mm) and tail length from 15.75 inches to 23.32 inches (400mm to 590mm). Animals from the southeastern part of the range are “strongly vested,” meaning that they have black markings from shoulder to rump. The black patch widens near the shoulders and encircles the forelimbs. The rest of the body can be blonde, tan, or brown. Animals from northern Brazil and Venezuela to west of the Andes are solid blonde, brown, or black. Sometimes they are only lightly vested. Tamanduas have four clawed digits on the forefeet and five on the hindfeet. To avoid puncturing their palms with their sharp claws, they walk on the outsides of their hands. The underside and the end of the prehensile tail are hairless. The snout is long and curves down with an opening only as wide as the diameter of a pencil, from which the tongue is protruded.
Mating generally takes place in the fall. Gestation ranges from 130 to 150 days and one young is born in the spring. At birth the young anteater does not resemble its parents. Its coat varies from white to black. It rides on the mother’s back for a period of time and is sometimes deposited on a safe branch while the mother forages. The maximum captive lifespan recorded is 9 years 6 months.
The Tamandua is mainly nocturnal but is occasionally active during the day. It is thought to nest during the day in hollow tree trunks or in the burrows of other animals. These animals are solitary. They may communicate when aggravated by hissing and releasing an unpleasant scent from the anal gland.
The Southern Tamandua uses its powerful forearms in self-defense. If it is threatened in a tree, it grasps a branch with its hind feet and tail. This leaves the arms and long curved claws free for combat. If attacked on the ground, this anteater backs up against a rock or a tree and grabs the opponent with its forearms.
This animal has small eyes and poor vision. Its large, upright ears indicate that hearing is an important sense for this animal.
Southern Tamanduas eat ants and termites, which they locate by scent. They avoid eating ants that are armed with strong chemical defenses, such as army ants and leaf-eating ants. Tamanduas are also thought to eat honey and bees. In captivity, they have been known to eat fruit and meat as well. Anteaters extract their prey by using their extremely strong forelimbs to rip open nests. They use their elongated snouts and rounded tongues 15 inches long (40 cm) to lick up the insects.