The Northern tamandua is a medium-sized anteater with a prehensile tail, small eyes and ears, and a long snout. The fur is pale yellow over most of the body, with a distinctive patch of black fur over the flanks, back, and shoulders. The presence of this colouration pattern makes it possible to distinguish these species from its southern relative, which has a more uniform colour. The tail has fur on its upper surface for about a third of its length, but is otherwise hairless. The hind feet have five toes, while the fore feet have only four. Males and females are similar in size and colour.
Northern tamanduas occur from southern Mexico, through Central America to western Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and the northwestern corner of Peru. They inhabit various types of tropical forest within this region, including evergreen, deciduous, mangrove swamps, cloud forests, and secondary forest. They can also be found in mangroves and grassland with some trees.
Northern tamanduas are mainly nocturnal but may be often active during the day. They spend only around 40% of their time in the trees. They are active for about eight hours each day and spend the rest of the time sheltering in hollow trees. Northern tamanduas move, forage, and rest on the ground as well. They can't run on the ground but can move with a stiff-legged, clumsy gait. They are solitary animals and occupy home ranges of between 25 and 70 ha (62 and 170 ac). These tamanduas communicate with each other by leaving scent marks with their anal scent glands. Adults rarely make any sounds but young can be quite vocal. If provoked, Northern tamanduas can prop themselves up on their hind legs and tails using a tree or rock for support, and lash out with their claws.
Little is known about the mating and reproductive habits of Northern tamanduas. There is no defined breeding season for these animals. Females are ready to breed at any time of year and give birth to a single pup. The gestation period lasts from 130 to 190 days. Pups shelter in nests in a hollow tree, but later start moving around by clinging to their mothers' back. Young tamanduas are ready to leave their mothers when they reach 1 year of age.
There are no major threats to Northern tamanduas. However, these animals suffer from hunting, habitat change, roadkills, and wildfires. They are also used as pets in southern Mexico, and local people may hunt them for food in some areas.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Northern tamandua total population size. This animal is common throughout its known range. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.