Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Southern Tamandua

(Tamandua tetradactyla)

Class: Mammalia

Order: Pilosa

Family: Myrmecophagidae

Physical Description

Southern tamanduas are between 21 and 31.5 inches in length, with a 15 to 23 inch long prehensile tail. On average, they typically weigh around 10 pounds. They have short, dense fur and the color varies depending upon location; individuals in the southeast have bold, black markings around the shoulder and throughout the back, with the rest of the body covered in lighter fur that is blonde or brown. Tamanduas native to the north and west can have much lighter markings, or are uniformly blonde, brown, or black.

An arboreal species, the underside of the tail lacks fur which allows tamanduas a better grip when climbing. While able to maneuver easily through trees, tamanduas are quite awkward when moving about terrestrially. Tamanduas spend an eight hour period of activity foraging for food arboreally.

Southern tamanduas have large, sharp claws on each of their feet. Their front feet have four claws and their back feet have five clawed. Tamanduas walk on the outside of their feet to avoid puncturing themselves with their claws. These claws are used both for food excavation and defense

Social Structure

Aside from breeding, tamanduas are typically solitary animals.


Tamanduas are capable of hissing and emitting an unpleasant odor from their anal glands when threatened or disturbed.

Reproduction and Development

This species typically mates in the fall, and female tamanduas are capable of having multiple estrus cycles throughout the breeding season. Pregnancy lasts between 130 and 150 days, after which a single offspring is born. Instances of twins have occurred, but are not common. Young tamanduas are frequently carried on their mothers' backs throughout the first months of life. Young will remain with their mother for approximately one year before reaching sexual maturity and heading off on their own.

Life Span

The median life expectancy of tamanduas is 9 years.

Native Country Range

Tamanduas are found throughout much of South America, including all of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suirname, French Guiana, Brazil, and Paraguay. This species also inhabits parts of Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela.

Natural Habitat

Tamanduas are an adaptable species; they can be found in forests, savannas, tropical rainforests, scrub forests, and mangroves, but most commonly occur near streams and rivers. They have been documented at elevations reaching 6,500 feet. When they are not active, tamanduas commonly shelter in tree hollows.

Food/Eating Habits

At the Zoo, tamanduas consume a diet of insects and a mash of insectivore diet.

Tamanduas excavate insect nests using their forelimbs and claws, and then use their elongated snout and tongue to consume prey. The tongue of tamanduas can be up to 15.7 inches in length, while the mouth opening is about the width of a pencil eraser—a mere 0.25 inches. Tamanduas are a toothless species, but have a muscular gizzard in the stomach to aide in digestion.

Sleeping Schedule

This species is believed to be primarily nocturnal, but has been observed active during the daytime as well.


You can find our Southern Tamanduas at the Small Mammal House.

Fun Fact

If under attack while in a tree, tamanduas will stand on their hind legs balancing themselves with their tails and, with arms outstretched and claws exposed, will wait for the potential predator to come into reach.

IUCN Designation

Tamanduas are listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.