- Common Name:
- Scientific Name:
- Nasua and Nasuella
- Average Life Span:
- Seven years
- 26 inches long, about the size of a housecat
What is a coati?
With a striped tail and bandit-mask face markings, the coati is a not-so-secret member of the Procyonidae family, which also includes raccoons. But there are many differences between these similar-looking mammals.
For starters, coatis tend to be diurnal, which means they do most of their foraging during the day, whereas raccoons are nocturnal, striking out primarily at night.
Their tails are another point of departure. While the raccoon has a shorter, bushier tail of black and white, the coati’s tail is long and thin. The coati’s tail is also considered somewhat prehensile, meaning it helps prevent the animal from falling out of the treetops by providing balance and allowing it to keep a strong grip on branches.
On the ground, coatis like to hold their tails aloft while walking around on all fours, perhaps to signal where they are to other coatis while moving through thick underbrush. In this way, a band of coatis bears a distinct resemblance to a troop of ring-tailed lemurs, even though the animals live in different hemispheres and are not closely related.
Habitat and diet
Coatis can be found from the southwestern United States all the way to northern Argentina and Uruguay. They are adaptable animals able to survive across a wide variety of habitats, including rainforests, grasslands, and even mountain slopes.
Part of that flexibility is because of the coati’s ability to eat almost anything discovered in the leaf litter. Across their range, the mammals are known to gulp down everything from leaves and fruit to insects, tarantulas, birds, lizards, snakes, rodents, and even crocodile eggs.
A band of coatis usually consists of four to 20 animals, mostly females and their young. Adult males spend most of their time on their own, only joining the band when it’s time to mate.
In fact, it was once thought that male coatis were a different species entirely, thanks to their larger size and independent nature. They were even given a different name—coatimundi—which meant “lone coati” in Guarani, one of South America’s native languages. Today, coatimundi is sometimes used as another common name for a coati of either sex.
After mating, a female coati is pregnant for just 10 to 11 weeks. To prepare for the little ones, the mother builds a sturdy nest in the forest canopy out of sticks and leaves. Baby coatis are sometimes called “kittens,” and litters can be as small as two or as large as seven.
With lots of little kittens around, other female coatis in the band take turns babysitting while the mother forages for food. This is known as reciprocal altruism. Sometimes, the babies even suckle from females other than their own mother.
Threats to survival
As relatively small animals that spend a fair amount of time on the ground, coatis can fall victim to many different predators. These include cats such as the jaguar, ocelot, or jaguarundi, as well as canines such as the maned wolf and domestic dog. Large, constricting snakes and birds of prey also take their toll.
Humans also hunt coatis for their meat and fur, as well as when the animals become a nuisance by preying upon chickens and other livestock. Humans also sometimes capture coatis and sell them as pets.
There are four species of coatis, all of which are thought to be decreasing in numbers. In spite of that, the International Union for Conservation of Nature consider the South American coati (Nasua nasua) and white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) to be of least concern for extinction.
However, the western mountain coati (Nasuella olivacea) is listed as near threatened, and the eastern mountain coati (Nasuella meridensis) is classified as endangered. Both species are native to the Andes Mountain range, where they are thought to be declining thanks to deforestation and land conversion for ranching and agriculture.
DID YOU KNOW?
The coati has double-jointed ankles that can spin backwards and provide a better grip when descending tree trunks head first.
Coatis make lots of noises, including chirps, grunts, snorts, clicks, and woofs.
When coatis sleep, they tuck their long noses into their bellies.