Tamandua tetradactylasouthern tamandua

Geographic Range

Tamandua tetradactyla is found in South America from Venezuela and Trinidad to northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay at elevations to 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, especially those thick with vines and epiphytes (presumably because its prey is common in these areas).

Physical Description

Head and body length ranges from 535 to 880mm and tail length from 400 to 590mm. The individual and geographic variation observed in the southern tamandua has made the taxonomic description of these animals a difficult task. 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, or 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 decurved with an opening only as wide as the diameter of a pencil, from which the tongue is protruded.

  • Average mass
    4500 g
    158.59 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    5.015 W


Females of Tamandua tetradactyla are polyestrous; 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.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    160 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    365 days



The collared anteater 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.

Tamandua tetradactyla spends much of its time foraging arboreally; a study in various habitats in Venezuela showed that this anteater spends 13 to 64 percent of its time in trees. In fact, the southern tamandua is quite clumsy on the ground and ambles along, incapable of the gallop that its relative, the giant anteater, can achieve.

The southern anteater uses its powerful forearms in self-defense. If it is threatened in a tree it grasps a branch with its hindfeet and tail, leaving its 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.

In the rainforest the southern tamandua is surrounded during the day by a cloud of flies and mosquitoes and is often seen wiping these insects from its eyes.

This animal has small eyes and poor vision. Its large, upright ears indicate that hearing is an important sense for this animal.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Southern tamanduas eat ants and termites (mainly arboreal forms), 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 and, in captivity, have been known to eat fruit and meat as well. Anteaters extract their prey by using their extremely strong forelibs to rip open nests and their elongate snouts and rounded tongues (up to 40 cm in length) to lick up the insects.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Tamanduas are sometimes used by Amazonian Indians to rid their homes of ants and termites. Also, as mentioned above, the tendons of their tails are used to make rope.

Conservation Status

Tamandua tetradacyla from southestern Brazil are listed as CITES Appendix II. These animals, though widespread, are uncommon. They are killed by hunters, who claim that tamanduas kill dogs. They are also killed for the thick tendons in their tails, from which rope is made.


Antonia Gorog (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Emmons, Louise H. (1990). Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

Macdonald, David. (1984). The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Facts on File Publications, New York.

Nowak, Ronald M. and Paradiso, John L. (1983). Walker's Mammals of the World Vol. 1 4th edition, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.