Tamandua (lesser anteater)

Tamandua tetradactyla (southern)

Tamandua mexicana (northern)

Order: Pilosa

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Lots of climbing opportunities and heat in cold weather.
  • Can be great escape artists would do better in a meshed exhibit
    • Standard chain-link has been used with adult tamandua, but should not be used for any newborn/juvenile tamandua as the holes are too large. Newborn tamandua can fit through the links and juveniles may get limbs stuck.
  • Providing hammocks for them to sleep in makes it easier on keepers if you need to grab up an animal. When they are on perching they tend to grab on with a death hold and it makes it difficult to pick them up.
  • Other options include large baskets or buckets. Bedding is up to the individual animal and institution, and can include towels, burlap, and padded cat beds if appropriate.
  • A nest box with towel inside (in their climate controlled area) is a favorite sleeping spot and makes for easy access for keepers
    • An option for a nest box is a Rubbermaid storage tote with a hole cut into the side. Nest boxes should be secured in some fashion so that they do not get tipped over. These are easy to clean and replace as needed.
    • Nest boxes generally are preferred when elevated off the ground. A shelf with logs leading up to it is ideal as the box can can be bolted to the shelf.

Diet Requirements

  • Insectivore diet. Can be fed powdered insectivore diet mixed with water to make a gruel. They like it warm especially in cool weather.
  • Mazuri Insectivore, cat food, dog food, blueberries, carrots. (Greensboro Science Center -our female is really picky with what she will and will not eat)
  • Reid Park Zoo – Base diet is fed out 3 times a day: 1/3 cup Mazuri Insectivore (soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes and mashed to a smooth consistency similar to oatmeal), 3 tbs plain yogurt (roughly stirred into the insectivore so there are still visible streaks of yogurt), 2/3rds of a 2.5oz jar of meat-based baby food (we currently feed out Gerber ham, chicken and turkey). Also 60 wax worms per day, generally fed out through training or in enrichment.
    • Supplements are added into the AM diets: 1/2 tsp Taurine powder, 1 pinch Vitamin K powder, 1 pinch Vitamin C powder
    • Our older tamandua also receives cosequin powder once per day
    • They also receive 1/2 an avocado (no pit) and another produce item a day (rotation is cucumber, tomato, orange, but also occasionally can have papaya, melon, pumpkin and pomegranates)
    • Some of our tamandua have had allergies to certain types of baby food, so be aware of this if seeing any digestion issues

Veterinary Concerns

  • Protect from drafts to prevent cold symptoms like runny nose.
  • May have sensitive, cracking skin, especially on pads of feet or tip of tail, when humidity is low. Increase humidity and/or treat topically with ointment.
  • Most veterinary procedures (blood draws, ultrasounds etc.) can be accomplished voluntarily.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Training treats can include mealworms, wax worms, honey, papaya, grapes, avocado, applesauce, banana
  • Can easily be trained to crate. Providing diet and/or bedding in the crate will increase their comfort level.
  • They can be trained to target and heel. Worthwhile to build relationship and train for behaviors that facilitate handling. They are strong and difficult to handle without compliance
  • They really like to tear apart rotten stumps and logs, especially if there are insects inside.
  • Boxes and cardboard tubes can be stuffed with paper (newspaper, tissue, shredded) for tamandua to tear apart to forage for worms.
  • PVC tube feeders are great to put honey or other treats into and can be hung around the enclosure.
  • Our tamandua seem to be very interested in different smells and we regularly exchange logs with other animals (particularly giant anteaters)
  • Different climbing structures like tubes, hammocks, tire swings and moveable perches are used a lot
  • If you allow your enrichment worms to climb into lettuce heads, they seem to enjoy ripping them apart to find the worms (and make a huge mess!)


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

  • Put favored treats in the bottom of a clear plastic tube, such as a syringe holder, to show off the very long tongue.
  • The tamandua can be held by the tail if needed, a harness is not really necessary.
  • At Houston Zoo, we use a harness for our tamanduas. We do not allow guests to touch the animals but we do allow guests to feed them treats from a syringe in limited numbers or for VIP experiences.
  • Many tamanduas can be desensitized to allow guests to touch them.
  • If using a perch for a presentation, having them target to hang down by their tail is always impressive to show off their prehensile tail
  • Standing is a good trained behavior to demonstrate their defensive posture.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Tamanduas have no teeth and cannot bite, but they can strike really fast with their front claws and pinch you really hard.
  • Special articulations on their lumbar vertebrae make them extremely strong for their size.
  • Females may become too agitated to participate in programs during their vulvar bleed. Or you might not want to present them then anyway, lest blood get all over the place.


Potential Messaging

  • Conserving rainforest is important because tamanduas live in the rainforest.
  • Think twice before clearing dead trees from your property. Many animals, like tamanduas, use dead trees for habitat.
  • Shade-grown coffee: The original coffee plants that were cultivated could not withstand much sunlight and were therefore grown beneath the canopy of the forest. Due to the popularity of coffee, most strains of coffee plants have been cultivated over time to withstand full sunlight. This has created large-scale deforestation for coffee plantations. Please ask guests to choose organic shade-grown coffee in which the plants are grown beneath the forest canopy, preserving arboreal habitat for tamarins, marmosets, sakis, binturongs, and birds while the forest floor is being used for human purposes. Look for coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified or marked “Organic Shade-Grown”. http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-beverages/organic-shade-grown-coffee.htmlhttp://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/crops/coffee
  • Pet trade: Tamanduas are taken from the wild for the pet trade. Unfortunately many die during the process since this species has a very specific diet. Tamanduas do not make good pets due to strict dietary needs, and need for space. They can also be dangerous due to their long claws. Educational poster available by downloading here or by contacting Reid Park Zoo at jennifer.stoddard@tucsonaz.gov. Also available in Spanish and Portuguese.

Acquisition Information

Please work with the Tamandua SSP studbook keeper first for captive bred tamandua acquisition.

Any facility that is looking to acquire wild caught animals (or “captive-bred” animals from any non-AZA facility, for that matter) is encouraged to contact the Studbook Keeper first, as there are some AZA institutions that have had particularly negative experiences with specific importers.

An AZA listserv has been created for those interested in tamanduas, which may prove a useful tool in sharing husbandry notes. To post to this list, you may send email to: tamandua@lists.aza.org; general information about the mailing list is available at http://lists.aza.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/tamandua.

Comments from the Rating System

  • Reid Park Zoo has been very successful using tamanduas as animal ambassadors and for breeding. A tamandua and her pup can be trained to do presentations together.

Natural History Information

Samples of educational materials from AZA zoos can be found here. 

Range and Habitat

Tamandua mexicana ranges from southern Mexico in the north of its range, through Central America as far south as northwestern Peru and northwestern Venezuela.
Tamandua tetradactyla is found to the east of the Andes from Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad Island, and the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname), south to northern Uruguay and northern Argentina.
They can live in a range of habitats including wet and dry forests, tropical rainforest and savanna.

Physical Description

Small mammal, around 10-17 pounds. Thick, muscular limbs; long, scaly, prehensile tail, narrow, pointed head. Hair is short and very coarse, beige to golden. Some tamanduas show a darker “vest” on their torso, which can range from light grey to nearly black. Front feet have long, inwardly-curling toes and claws, and they walk on the outside of the front feet rather than the palm or underside of the toes. The head tapers to a point where there is a small, moist nose and a very small mouth. Tamanduas have no teeth but the tongue, which looks like an earthworm, can be nearly twelve inches long. The entire tongue may be seen when it is protruded in the anteater version of a yawn. The tail is long, with sparser hair, and very muscular. It is prehensile and can easily support the entire body weight of the animal. The tamandua has a strong, unpleasant odor, which can be sprayed from anal glands if the animal is frightened.

Life Cycle

  • Usually only one young (pup) born at a time.
  • Gestation is approximately 5 months (130-150 days)
  • Life expectancy in captivity is 10-12 years, 6-9 years in the wild.


Tamanduas are solitary and usually nest in tree trunks or burrows of other animals. They have been known to use the burrows dug by giant armadillos in Brazil. They are adapted for life in the trees but are very mobile on the ground as well. They are active both day and night.

Threats and Conservation Status

Listed by IUCN as Least Concern. Loss of habitat and the pet trade are major concerns. The skin is sometimes used to make leather products.

Did you know…

  • Tamanduas eat approximately 9,000 ants a day
  • The mouth of a tamandua only opens to the diameter of a pencil
  • Their prehensile tail is used to grasp onto branches and to help keep their balance high up in the trees.


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Houston Zoo, Special Event
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Reid Park Zoo mobile presentation cart
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RPZ Stage presentation

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Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • San Diego Zoo’s Animal Bytes: Anteater (lesser)
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
  • Reid Park Zoo
  • Miranda, F., Fallabrino, A., Arteaga, M., Tirira, D.G., Meritt, D.A. & Superina, M. 2014.Tamandua tetradactyla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T21350A47442916
  • Greensboro Science Center

Top Photo: Reid Park Zoo