Monday, August 1, 2011

zoology: "oh, where'd you come from?"

I consider myself pretty knowledgable about zoological matters, and for good reason, but I am thrown offguard regularly with the immense diversity of our third jewel from the sun.

Recently, I met my first tamandua. Basically, a tree anteater.

I had no idea such an animal existed. Well, it makes sense (in a way I will describe later). I had always heard (well, read) that xenarthra was made up of armadillos, sloths, and anteaters. Well, I guess that was over-simplified.

This is the most recent (and the most spectacular) of my suprise visitors. The tamandua follows the triops, the solfugids, the chinese paddlefish, and amphiuma.

Perhaps I have been too casual with my terminilogy. Xenarthra is a zoological taxonomic grouping within the larger grouping of mammailia. It is equivalent in heirarchy to cetacea (whales and dolphins, etc.) or to carnivora (tigers and wolves and such). Xenarthans are exclusively South American (plus some Mesoamerica), and one of the older classifications.

The whole reason the tamanduas are especially fascinating is that they represent, to me anyway, a "missing link" between sloths and the rest of xenathra. I never really saw how sloths were closely related to armadillos, but now the tamandua makes things fall into place taxonomically. You see, their hooked claws remind me strikingly of the sloths, even though their body is wholly anteater.

Another cool thing about them is that they are apparantly quite common within their natural range. Which makes it even more suprising they never got on my radar.

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