Out of the three anteater species in Costa Rica, the Northern Tamandua, or Lesser anteater as it is often called; is the most frequently observed. The Tamandua will grow to be approximately two feet long and weigh around 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 can be active by day or night, but whichever; it’s rarely active for more than 8 hours at a time. The tamandua may forage in either trees or on the ground, but appear to keep a consistent preference for one or the other. They feed on termites which are found in tree trunks throughout the lowlands, and ants, and sometimes even bees (including African killer bees). Tamandua’s that tend to spend more time in trees eat more ants than termites, and individuals that are more terrestrial eat more termites than ants. (This individual variation in diet is thought to help reduce competition between neighboring tamanduas). Adult tamanduas consume, on average, 9,000 ants and termites, visiting between 50 to 80 colonies every day.
Tamandua will often attack large nests connected to limbs or inside tree trunks, using their exceedingly strong forearms and foreclaws to rip a nest open, in order to probe it with a 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 spiny bodies, big jaws, or foul chemicals, such as leaf-cutting or army ants. For example, termite soldiers who patrol the periphery of the nest, have nozzle-shaped heads through which they squirt a sticky, nasty tasting secretion that reeks strongly of turpentine. For this reason, tamanduas attack nests quickly and move on before too many soldiers are able to rally in defense.
The gestation of the tamandua is approximately 225 days, as females give birth to a single young about once a year. The young frequently look much different from the adults, fluctuating from entirely off-white to black. Young are left in the den during the nursing period while the mother forages. Although the young will begin to take solid food after approximately 3 months, it will continue to suckle till it’s about a year old. A young tamandua will become independent 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 defenses and need home ranges that tend to be large. Although tamandua are sometimes hunted for sport and for their pelts, they are not a primary game animal; however, they are very susceptible to human disturbances. With the combination of needing a large range, human disturbance, and slow reproductive turnover, the tamandua of Costa Rica could suffer the same fate as their bigger relative, the Giant anteater.
Tamandua are found on both slopes of Costa Rica; in forested and/or open habitats.