Tamandua Encounter in Costa Rica

By Nick Hawkins, Wildlife Photographer

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The Tamandua has a strong prehensile tail that can grip foliage and support their entire weight. This frees up their arms for ripping open insect nests or defending against predators.

As a wildlife photographer, it often takes a lot of time, planning and patience to capture meaningful images of the natural world. Other times, a chance encounter and a bit of quick thinking can produce a great image. Such occurrences are rare but many times turn out as some of my most memorable experiences as a photographer. Last night was certainly one of these times, when I came across a Tamandua, a type of anteater, in the backyard of Hotel Tambor Tropical.

These interesting creatures are not common, and their nocturnal and arboreal habits make them very difficult to observe. I quickly gathered my camera gear and using two off camera flashes, set-up underneath one of the trees that the Tamandua was feeding in. Luckily I had two friends with me who helped in holding flashes and other camera gear, we remained silent and all waited for the animal to descend down the tree.

Tamanduas have powerful forearms with long sharp claws that they use to dig into ant and termite nests. We watched as he tore into the thick bark of a hollow branch, licking up the outpouring horde of angry ants. The opening of a Tamandua’s mouth is only the diameter of a pencil, which protrudes a sticky tongue that is over half a meter long. They can consume up to 9000 ants in a single night!

An excellent climber, the Tamandua spends most of its time in the trees. They move awkwardly on the ground, forced to walk on the outsides of their hands to avoid puncturing their palms with their sharp claws.

An excellent climber, the Tamandua spends most of its time in the trees. They move awkwardly on the ground, forced to walk on the outsides of their hands to avoid puncturing their palms with their sharp claws.

After raiding a nest, the Tamandua would descend the tree to move to a different area. With fairly poor eyesight, they rely mainly on smell and hearing; the animal would descend within inches of my camera lens before detecting our presence and turning back up the tree. This made for some excellent opportunities to photograph this shy species and after creating a number of images we moved off to let the Tamandua disappear into the night.

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