Members of the New World Order
Anteaters, members of the New World Order Edentata (Latin for 'untoothed'), are unique among land mammals in that they lack teeth and use a long. sticky tongue to slurp up ants and termites. Their eyesight is poor, but strong; their heavily clawed forelegs rip open ant nests; and they use a well developed sense of smell to detect their prey.
All four species of anteater are restricted to Central and South America, and three are recorded in Costa Rica. The largest of those is the locally rare giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), which reaches a length of almost 2m in size and has a tongue that protrudes an astonishing 60cm up to 150 times a minute!
Much more common is the lesser anteater (or northern tamandua; oso mielero; Tamandua mexicana), with a distinctive golden-tan and black pattern. Its length is 0.93 to 1.45m and it weighs 4 to 8kg. It too has prodigious tongue, up to 40cm long, covered with microscopic backward-pointing spines to direct food into its mouth. Graces with a prehensile tail, it is a good tree climber and forages both on and above the ground. The tamandua is nocturnal and diurnal, and is seen, with luck, in most forests below 2000m. Though relatively common, it is, unfortunately, seen more often as road kill that in the wild. If disturbed, it rears up on its hind legs and slashes wildly with strong front claws - an intimidating and potentially severe defense.
The last Costa Rican species is the 40cm long silky anteater (tapacara; Cyclopes didactylus). Nocturnal and arboreal, it eats about 6000 ants per night. By day it curls up in a tight ball and is hard to see.
Pictures by Angela and Jörn Malek. The team of Discovery Travel World wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text by Lonely Planet.