Costa Rica has three species of anteaters — the lesser, giant and silky, the most common of which is the lesser anteater otherwise known as the collared anteater. A distant cousin of the sloths, anteaters generally inhabit lowland and middle-elevation habitats of the country. In Spanish, an anteater is called an oso hormiguero, which literally means ant-eating bear.
In Costa Rica, the giant anteater is seen only on the Osa Peninsula, whereas the silky and lesser anteater can be viewed throughout most of the country. The lesser anteater typically lives near rivers and areas thick with vegetation. Some locations where these creatures have been spotted include Barra Honda National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Palo Verde National Park, Braulio Carillo National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park.
The giant anteater’s status in the wild is at best endangered and though they are spotted in and around the tropical jungles of Montezuma, the numbers are depleting at an alarming rate. This can be attributed to habitat loss. The most recent recorded sightings were in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula.
A well adapted mouth and tongue enables the silky and tamandua anteaters to consume up to 10,000 ants in a single day. Their big, moist tongues have small barbs created to grasp termites and ants from nests and underground settlements. While ants, termites and larva make up for a majority of their diet, anteaters have been known to thrive equally well on fruits and eggs. Directed by a powerful sense of smell, anteaters can recognize termite mounds and ant nests with absolute dexterity. Intuitively staying away from insects with painful stings or bites, the lesser anteater resourcefully laps up the unsuspecting prey with its tongue, which can be as long as 16 inches. They don’t have teeth and are hence not able to chew their food properly which makes these creatures solely depend on their stomach enzymes for effective digestion.
Lesser anteaters have a gestation period of 120-150 days and mostly mate during fall season. At birth, the baby anteaters are near hairless before growing an elegant coat of fur that can range from black to white. Newborn tamanduas often take rides on the mother’s back until they are old enough to perch themselves on lofty tree branches. Their gestation time is roughly 190 days and females give birth to a single baby at a time.
It is believed that these creatures reach their sexual maturity around 2.5 to 4 years of age. After about 120-150 days of gestation, silky anteaters give birth to a single offspring that is safely tucked away in a nest of leaves located in a tree hole. Both parents play an active role in caring for the new born till it is old enough to look after itself which is generally a few months after birth. At times, the siblings may also contribute in caring for the new born tamanduas along with the parents.
Their natural predators include birds of prey, jaguars and small cats like the margay. When threatened, anteaters generally communicate by releasing a hiss like sound and a foul smelling odor from the anal gland. The unpleasant odor acts as an effective defense, sending most creatures scooting in the opposite direction. This helps to keep away attacking creatures. Anteaters have a lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild and a few years more in domesticity.
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