She’s a sweet-natured, eager explorer with a taste for juicy wax worms. Meet Chiquita, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s new tamandua! The 1.5-year-old female arrived from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Washington after receiving a recommendation to breed with our male Cayenne. Get to know our new gal’s personality quirks and boost your tamandua IQ in this Q+A with Small Mammal House keepers Chelia Chong and Mimi Nowlin and assistant curator Kenton Kerns.
What are some of your favorite facts about tamanduas?
Tamanduas primarily consume ants and termites, and in the wild they can eat as many as 9,000 insects a day! With such a specialized diet, tamanduas have some unique adaptations for eating. Since their mouth only opens to about the width of a pencil eraser, they have a 16-inch long, sticky tongue that allows them to navigate ant and termite nests and quickly consume their prey.
These animals are also arboreal, which means they spend most of their time living in trees. To help them maintain their footing and balance as they climb, they use their prehensile tail which acts as an extra limb.