You or a family member are familiar with and have probably seen raccoons. Raccoons are common and are often seen as road kills along streets and highways in North America. The raccoon family is a carnivore and is called “Procyonidae” and consists of four genera of raccoon-like small mammals: the raccoon, the ringtail, the kinkajou, and coatimundi (or “coati” for short).¹ You are much less likely to have seen these near cousins of the raccoon all of which (except the kinkajou) are found in parts of the U. S.
Raccoons (genus Procyon) are found north from Panama throughout Mexico and the U. S. into much of southern Canada. Ringtails (genus Basssariscus) are found north from the Mexican state of Oaxaca into the U. S. states of Arkansas, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah Nevada, California, into Oregon. The kinkajou (genus Potos) ranges north through southern Brazil into southern Mexico–the only genus in the family Procyonidae with a prehensile tail. The coati belongs to the genus Nasua. There are two species within this genus; Nasua nasua and N. nelsoni. N. nasua is the common coati found in the southwestern U.S.¹
Another genus, Nasuella (Mountain Coati) is about half the size of the common coati and is found mostly in forested habitats from northern Colombia and Venezuela to Peru at elevations of over 2,000 m. Little is known of Nasuella.² Hall (1981) does not recognize this genus, also a member of Procyonidae.
Coatis are distributed from Argentina through Central American and Mexican woodlands northward and only somewhat recently extended their ranges into Southwestern U. S.—Texas– in about 1900. Presently, they are most likely to be found in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas in the U. S.
Coatis may grow to the size of a small dog. They are found in habitats ranging from dry deciduous forests to layered tropical evergreen forests and sleep in trees during the nighttime. Home range may be as much as 2kms².
The coati is diurnal in activity–active during the daytime–although the raccoon and ringtail are both nocturnal. The coati has a tough though sensitive snout which facilitates food gathering. This latter characteristic had led some to call it the “hog-nosed coon.”
Some folks mistake the coati for a monkey, as it is rust-colored (pale brown to reddish) and has a dusty face mask with small brown eyes bordered by a mask varying from reddish to brown. Ears are short. The tail is banded with alternate yellow and brown markings. Tail length is about equal to length of the body (up to 27 inches) and is used primarily for balance though it cannot grasp limbs with it as do mammals with prehensile tails.
Coati female and young are social and gregarious; that is, they normally live in semi-permanent social groups of up to 30 individuals, mostly females and younger animals. Outside of the breeding season, males are solitary and forage alone. In about April of each year, males enter the groups, and two or more young are born in a tree nest after a 77 day gestation period in early summer. Young are confined to their nests for 2 or 3 weeks following birth; they then follow their mother and other females with their young to hunt for food in trees or on the ground.
Coati’s are omnivorous; that is, they feed upon either animal or plant materials depending on availability. On the ground, coatis, hunt for arthropods (insects, beetles, etc.), worms, small invertebrates in the forest floor litter with their sensitive snouts. Berries, mice, lizards, and almost anything are also food items.³
Some folks deem coatis as satisfactory household pets.
¹Hall, E. R. 1981. The mammals of North America. Vol. II. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
²Eisenberg, J. F. 1989. Mammals of the Neotropics. Vol. I. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London.
³Grosvenor, G.M, ed. 1979. Wild animals of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C.
Note: The Olsen family sighted a coati near Tucson, AZ, and brought it to the author’s attention.