Costa RicaCosta Rica

corcovado anteater
 - Costa Rica

Anteaters

Anteaters

Hilights

  • Scientific Name: Tamandua tetradactyla
  • Status in the Wild: Common
  • Habitat: Grasslands, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests
  • Diet: Omnivore

Costa Rica has three species of anteater — lesser, giant and silky, the most common of which is the lesser anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), otherwise known as the collared anteater. A distant relative of sloths, anteaters inhabit lowland and middle-elevation habitats of the country. In Spanish, an anteater is called an oso hormiguero, which translates to ant-eating bear.

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The lesser anteater is a tree-dwelling creature that nimbly navigates branches using its prehensile tail. Their bodies are covered with gold or tan and black fur similar to a panda and they can weigh up to 18 pounds. Enormous front claws help the lesser anteater scale trees; they have an extra long claw on the third toe used for digging and defense. Lesser anteaters, also called tamandua, use their prehensile tails for balance in the treetops and as an anchor when they go into a defensive position. The lesser anteater is primarily nocturnal and spends around 40% of its time in trees. Ungainly on the ground, it is not capable of the gallop of its larger relative, the giant anteater.

A specially adapted mouth and tongue enable lesser anteaters to consume up to 10,000 ants in a single day. Their long, sticky tongues have tiny barbs designed to grasp termites and ants from nests and underground homes. While ants, termites and larva make up the bulk of their diet, anteaters have been known to feast on fruit and eggs as well. Guided by a powerful sense of smell, anteaters can detect termite mounds and ant nests with ease. Avoiding insects with painful stings or bites, the lesser anteater deftly snatches up unsuspecting prey with its tongue, which can measure up to 16 inches! Their mouths are tooth-free, so the animals rely on powerful stomach enzymes to digest food.

Natural predators include birds of prey, jaguars and small cats like the margay. When threatened, anteaters may communicate by hissing and releasing a fowl scent from the anal gland. The unpleasant odor is an effective defense, sending most animals in the opposite direction. Anteaters have a lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild.

Habitat:

Native to parts of Mexico, Central and South America, anteaters are found in wet and dry forests, rainforest and grasslands. Generally solitary species, each individual occupies a territory of around 185 acres. Males may enter the territories of females but do not enter the territories of other males. Similarly, females do not penetrate the territories of other females. In a dispute over territory, anteaters will swat with their powerful foreclaws and even ride the back of subordinate animal.

In Costa Rica, the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is found almost exclusively on the Osa Peninsula, while the silky and lesser anteater can be viewed throughout most of the country. The lesser anteater typically lives near rivers and areas thick with vegetation. Notable locations include Barra Honda National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Palo Verde National Park, Braulio Carillo National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park.

Reproduction:

Lesser anteaters have a gestation period of 120-150 days and usually mate in the fall. At birth, the baby anteaters are virtually hairless before growing a coat of fur that ranges from white to black. Newborns hitch rides on the mother's back until they can safely perch on tree branches.

The reproductive habits of wild giant anteaters are largely unknown. Gestation time is roughly 190 days and females give birth to one baby.  It is thought that sexual maturity is reached between 2.5 and 4 years of age.

After 120-150 days of gestation, silky anteaters (Cyclopes didactylus) give birth to a single offspring that is hidden in a nest of leaves located in a tree hole. Both parents care for newborns; after weaning, the young are fed semi-digested insects that are regurgitated.

Status in the Wild:

Due to habitat loss, giant anteaters may well be on the road to extinction in Costa Rica. The most recent recorded sightings were in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. Fortunately, neither the silky or lesser anteater is considered threatened at this time; however, habitat destruction remains a threat to this species in much of its range.