Everything You Need to Know About Southern Tamanduas

Learn all about the cute cousin of the Anteater in this informative guide.

Apr 25, 2023By Donna Hobson
everything to know about southern tamanduas

You might not have heard of the Southern Tamandua, but this cute creature is a mini version of the Anteater, complete with its trademark elongated snout and tongue.

Did you know that these animals can use a prehensile tail to stand upright in trees or launch a chemical attack on predators? Join us as we learn all about Southern Tamanduas.

What Are Southern Tamanduas?

southern tamandua sitting in tree stumps log pile

The Southern Tamandua is a small mammal native to South America.

It belongs to the suborder Vermilingua, which means "worm tongue" - describing the appendage that they are most famous for. This adorable mammal is also known as a "Lesser Anteater", thanks to a shared appearance with these close relatives. Still, the Southern Tamandua is far smaller, with an average body length of 53.5-80 cm and a weight of 4.5 kg. (Though their tails can add 60cm to their total body length!)

One of the most significant differences between the Southern Tamandua and the Giant Anteater is that the latter is a terrestrial creature, spending its day with its feet firmly planted on the ground. Whereas the Tamandua also enjoys an arboreal based existence spending much of its time in trees.


southern tamandua lesser anteater

Southern Tamanduas are a species of Anteaters found in Central and South America. They have a distinctive appearance: long snouts, striking fur, and long claws. They also have a prehensile tail which they use to help them climb trees; the underside of their tail is fur-less to aid in grip as they move from tree to tree.

Color varies depending on habitat, but most Southern Tamanduas have dark markings across their shoulders and back (which can sometimes resemble a vest) with lighter brown or cream fur over the rest of their body.


southern tamandua relaxing in a tree

This anteater species is native to Central and South America. They are prevalent in Brazil, Paraguay, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. But they inhabit areas covering most of South America, including Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

The Southern Tamandua can be found in tropical forests, deciduous forests, and savannas, preferring habitats with plenty of trees to climb and forage in (they can spend anywhere between 13-64% of their lives in these trees). They also inhabit grasslands and mangrove swamps, often near rivers and streams.

An adaptable species, these arboreal creatures can also survive at varying altitudes, with some documented at elevations of more than 2,000 meters.


southern tamandua foraging at night

Southern Tamanduas are solitary animals that live alone most of the time outside the breeding season. Although it is primarily nocturnal, the Tamandua can sometimes be seen during the day and generally has an active period of around eight hours. These arboreal creatures likely hunt during the night because they have poor vision, which would give potential attackers an advantage during daylight hours. However, when vision is low at night, the Tamandua can use its well-developed sense of hearing and smell to navigate its environment.

They prefer tree-based environments because they are clumsier on the ground - mainly because they have to walk on the outsides of their feet to avoid injuries from their long and sharp claws.

Their tongues can be up to 40 cm, and they use these long appendages to feed on ants, termites, and other insects found in the trees they inhabit. Sometimes they will even enjoy a snack of bees or honey. A Southern Tamandua commonly pulls apart a termite mound with its strong claws and forearms, then uses its tongue like a straw to suck the tiny insects from their home.


southern tamandua with baby

Generally, Southern Tamanduas mate in the fall and experience a 130-150 day pregnancy to produce a single baby. On occasion, a Tamandua can produce twins, but this is rare. Like other anteaters, the baby remains alongside its mother for their first year, often traveling around on her back.

The mother nurtures her child until they are around a year old. With an average lifespan of nine years, a one-year-old Tamandua is classified as an adult and ready to go alone and find a breeding partner.


southern tamandua lesser anteater with tongue out

The Southern Tamandua is an arboreal mammal found in Central and South America. It has adapted to its environment by developing a long, slender snout that helps it to feed on ants and other insects. Sharp claws enable them to tear insect mounds apart, and a long tongue allows them to reach down inside the remains of the nest to feed. These mammals lack teeth but possess special compounds in their stomach that help digest insects.

The Southern Tamandua has a special gland that produces a strong-smelling, foul-tasting secretion which it uses to ward off potential predators. If threatened or disturbed, this anteater will hiss and release this scent from their anal glands to deter predators. And, the Tamandua has additional defenses, in the form of strong forearms and claws, if this chemical attack is not enough.

If a predator attacks them on the ground, a Tamandua will lean against a tree or rock and use their forearms to strike at and grab their assailant. If they're attacked while in a tree, they will stand upright and use their tail to balance.

A prehensile tail also helps it climb trees and maneuver through the branches - it also serves as an extra limb for grasping food or other objects. These adaptations enable it to survive in its environment and make it one of the world's most successful species of anteaters.

Fun Facts

baby southern tamandua
  • Tamanduas have tiny mouth openings, which are about the size of a straw;
  • Their claws can grow up to 10 cm long;
  • They have a body temperature of 33 degrees Celsius, which is among the lowest of all mammals;
  • Their main predators are jaguars, pumas, and snakes;
  • When resting, they sleep in hollow trees or abandoned burrows;
  • Though they often move slowly, Tamanduas can reach speeds of up to 48 km/h;
  • A male is called a "boar," a female a "sow," and a baby a "pup”.
Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.