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Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) sleeping in a tree. Photographed in the Pantanal, Brazil

Southern Tamandua

(Tamandua tetradactyla)

Since it’s my birthday today, I decided to indulge myself with one of my favorite animals, the Tamandua! Yes, that’s a Tamandua I drew at the top of my Daily Creature Page. (inaccurately drew, I must add; I gave him a long smile, but you’ll soon learn the Tamandua actually has a very tiny mouth)

This awesome little creature is an anteater. In fact, its other common name is the Collared Anteater, after the sporty black markings on his creamy blonde coat. Though I think it is shaped more like a vest than a collar, kind of like the one Han Solo wears. So Han Solo Anteater would make more sense.

There are only four species of anteater in the world: the two Tamanduas (Northern & Southern), the Giant Anteater (perhaps my all time favorite creature), and the Pygmy (aka Silky) Anteater (another awesome little critter.) Together they comprise the suborder Vermilingua which means worm-tongue!

Want to see where the Tamandua fits in on the tree of life? On the same branch as the sloths and armadillos! Explore it here:

The worm tongues do in fact have ridiculously long worm-like tongues. The tamandua’s tongue is a shocking 15 inches long, twice the length of its head! How is that possible? The tongue is actually anchored to the sternum! (That’s your chest bone.) There is a long muscle that can push the long thin tongue in and out dozens of times per second, to lap up ants and termites from inside their nests.

That super long nose is actually his nose and mouth. The lower jaw extends all the way forward, he just can’t open it because the mouth opening is so tiny, only big enough for his tongue! Tamanduas have a semi-prehensile tail and huge claws on their front feet. They use these to tear open termite nests (mostly in trees) and for self defense when threatened.

You should see how cute a Tamandua is when he’s trying to look tough. He stands up on his hind legs (often using his tail for support) and spreads his front legs wide, displaying his huge claws while hissing and weaving back and forth. The posture is comically similar to a drunk guy in a bar who jumps up from the table and says “you wanna piece of me?” But being so short and having long silly ears gives him an embarrassingly Yoda-like appearance in the process.

Two Star Wars references in the same post? Yep, it must be my birthday. Long live the Tamandua!

Photographed in the Pantanal, Brazil. This is the only Tamandua I’ve ever seen in the wild.