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Photography: Courtesy Sara Alzate Velásquez

The Mexican tamandua and the Tamandua tetradactyla are two of the species of the family of the myrmecofagids (commonly known as anteaters) that inhabit the territory of Colombia spread over much of the north and south of the country.

Sara Alzate Velásquez, an eighth-semester student in the Biology program of the Faculty of Sciences and Biotechnology of the CES University, is developing an investigation that focuses on these two species and that through a genetic and body analysis could determine a possible hybridization among these animals.

My degree work focuses on observing a possible evolutionary process that occurs very little in nature and that genetically and taxonomically details some individuals of these species that have some characteristics that are typical of another species of the same family, which would indicate a possible hybridization”, The student explained.

According to Alzate Velásquez, hybridization starts from the reproductive cross between two different species that produce individuals with combined genetic and physical traits and conditions, such as the cross between a donkey and a mare, which give rise to the mule.

This same process could be occurring with the tamanduas studied, especially in areas of the country where both species meet in the departments of Caldas, Valle del Cauca and Cundinamarca, Quindío and Huila. Since there are individuals that share characteristics of one species and another, as is the case of the black vest pattern, a dark stripe on the back of the Mexican Anteater, that is occurring in individuals of both species when the Tamandua tetradactyla should not present it.

The student added that tamanduas, and anteaters in general, are individuals with a very important ecological role, since they serve as controllers of the populations of ants and termites that they consume and are also prey for predators such as the puma and the jaguar that are they feed on their meat.

To achieve the complete analysis of the species, the investigation will carry out a genetic observation from saliva samples taken from animals and tissue samples taken from individuals that have already died.

Our study can generate new information for tamandua species, evolutionary processes around these can be elucidated and generate information that provides scientific support for their conservation. This is part of a larger idea, where the main objective is to be able to genetically characterize natural populations in various species, especially the most trafficked ", explained Juliana Martínez Garro, professor at the Faculty of Sciences and Biotechnology and tutor of Sara's undergraduate work.

The researchers added that, although the verification of a hybridization may be an important scientific discovery (as it may indicate the appearance of a new species), it should be taken into account that these evolutionary processes do not usually occur in nature due to spontaneous causes, Rather, they are usually produced by human interventions, either because the species are forced to move from their places of origin coinciding with individuals outside their habitat, or because humans promote these crosses in circumstances such as captivity.

The research is supported by the Aiunau Foundation, an organization that is responsible for the rehabilitation of wild animals in Antioquia so that they can return to nature once they are rescued.

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