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Tamandua is a genus of anteaters. It has two members: the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) and the northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana). The word tamanduá is Tupi for "anteater", and in Tupi and Portuguese refers to anteaters in general. In those languages the tamandua is called tamanduá-mirim (mirim means "small").
Tamanduas have a tapered head with a long, tubular mouth with an opening only as wide as the diameter of a pencil, from which the tongue is protruded. They also have thick, bristly fur, which is yellowish-white, with a broad black lateral band, covering nearly the whole of the side of the body. Northern tamanduas have a black V going down their backs, while southern tamanduas only have the V in the southeastern part of their range, which is the farthest from the northern tamandua's range. The underside and end of the tamanduas' tails are hairless, and they have four clawed digits on the forefeet and five on the hind feet.
Tamanduas live in forests and grasslands, are semi-arboreal, and possess partially prehensile tails. The northern tamandua ranges from southeastern Mexico south throughout Central America, and in South America west of the Andes from northern Venezuela to northern Peru. Southern tamanduas are found from Venezuela and Trinidad to northern Argentina, southern Brazil and Uruguay.
Like other anteaters, the northern tamandua is highly adapted to its unusual diet. The tongue is long, extensible, and covered in sticky saliva able to pick up ants and termites. It has unusually well developed muscles, attached to a large hyoid bone and rooted to the top of the sternum. The entire oral cavity is modified to accommodate this tongue, and is so elongated that the back of the soft palate is level with the fifth cervical vertebra near the base of the neck, rather than at the top of the pharynx as in most other mammals. The jaw muscles and mandible are reduced, and the latter is particularly fragile. Like other anteaters, the northern tamandua has no teeth.
When aggravated, tamanduas communicate by hissing and releasing an unpleasant scent from their anal gland. If threatened while residing in the trees, it grasps a branch with its hind feet and tail, leaving its arms and long, curved claws free for combat. If on the ground, it backs up against a rock or tree and wrestles the opponent with its powerful forearms.
The northern tamandua is mainly nocturnal, but is also often active during the day, and spends only around 40% of its time in the trees. They are active for about eight hours each day, spending the rest of the time sheltering in hollow trees. They are solitary animals, occupying home ranges of between 25 and 70 hectares.
The anteaters can communicate with each other by leaving scent marks with their anal scent glands, but although infants can be quite vocal, adults rarely make any sounds. If provoked, they can prop themselves up on their hind legs and tail using a tree or rock for support, and lash out with their claws.