11 Interesting Coatimundi Facts

Part of the raccoon family, these elusive mammals are full of surprises.

A white nosed coati in Tulum, Mexico

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Though they look like a combination of a lemur, raccoon, and monkey with possibly a bit of piglet thrown in, coatimundis are officially part of the raccoon family, Procyonidae, along with kinkajous, ringtails, and olingos. These furry creatures mainly inhabit parts of South and Central America, but can also be found in Arizona and New Mexico. They hang out in trees and have brown-colored fur and a long snout that helps them forage for insects and fruit. Their ringed tails give off more raccoon-ish vibes, but there are plenty of distinctive characteristics that set coatimundis, also called coatis, apart from their black-and-white cousins.

Learn more about the peculiar animal with these 11 facts.

Fast Facts

  • Common Name: Coatimundi
  • Scientific Name: Nasua
  • Average Lifespan in the Wild: 7 to 8 years
  • Average Lifespan in Captivity: Up to 14 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: White-nosed coati: least concern; South American coati: least concern; western mountain coati: near threatened; eastern mountain coati: endangered
  • Current Population: Unknown

1. There Are Four Types of Coatimundi

The number of coatimundi species varies depending on who you ask but falls in the realm of two to six. The IUCN Red List has assessed four: the white-nosed coati (nasua narica, sometimes referred to as pizote), found from Arizona and New Mexico into northwest Colombia; the South American coati (nasua nasua, also known as the ring-tailed coati), found in north Argentina to Uruguay; the western mountain coati (nasuella olivacea) found in the Colombian and Ecuadorian Andes; and the eastern mountain coati (nasuella meridensis), found in the Venezuelan Andes.

The main difference between them is that mountain coatis are significantly smaller, averaging about 19 inches in size compared to the nasua’s 41 inches, and have shorter tails. Though very little is known about them, some experts would also add the Cozumel Island coati and the Wedels coati to the species list.

2. Coatis Are Named for Their Unique Noses

Sleeping South American coati
Marcel ter Bekke / Getty Images

The name coatimundi is believed to come from the Tupian languages indigenous to South America. Their word, kua’ti, is a combination of “cua” meaning “belt” and “tim” meaning “nose,” describing the way the coati sleeps with its nose tucked into its belly. They use these special noses to sniff out grubs like beetles and termites, plus the occasional frog, lizard, or mouse.

Unlike raccoons, who are primarily nocturnal, coatis stay awake during the day. The name “coatimundi” was originally used to describe adult males that live alone (translating into “lone coati”), but it is now used universally. Curiously, the Spanish name used in Mexico, "tejón", translates to "badger" in English.

3. They Give Birth in Trees

South American coati mother and its baby
belizar73 / Getty Images

Along with being good swimmers, coatis are excellent climbers. While most of the day is spent foraging for food on the ground, they do their sleeping, mating, and birthing in trees. After mating, the female begins the task of building a sturdy tree nest for the remainder of her gestation period and to give birth. She goes there alone, leaving the rest of the band behind. The pregnancy lasts three months and the two to seven kits she births stay in the tree nest until they can climb on their own. At around six to 10 weeks of age, they rejoin the band with their mother.

4. Coatis Babysit Each Other’s Offspring

Coati kits are able to stand on their own after 19 days and can climb at 26 days, being cared for in the isolated nests until they are about six weeks old and can rejoin their mother’s social group. Since it can take up to 11 days for their eyes to open, the babies are protected by both the mother and the other female members of the band until they are weaned.

Made up of both biological and nonbiological relatives, these groups of coati females essentially take turns “babysitting” and watching for predators while other mothers forage, as demonstrated by studies on reciprocity in coati social networks.

5. Females and Babies Live in Large Groups

A band of coatimundi at Iguaçu Fall National Park, Brazil.
herlordship / Getty Images

Groups of coatis, called “bands,” consist exclusively of females and their young. Numbers range from four to 20 individuals at a time but sometimes reach up to 30. These bands tend to be noisy, with constant grunts, chirps, and snorts. After male babies reach two years of age, they go off on their own, while the females remain in the band with their mothers.

Unlike the females, adult males are solitary creatures, preferring to live and forage alone. But during breeding season, they join the organized bands of females to mate, after which they leave again to isolate themselves.

6. They Play an Important Role in Their Ecosystem

All that foraging accomplishes so much more than a full coatimundi belly. Studies on coatis' role in the ecosystem have shown that they are vital in controlling insect populations and help disperse seeds while consuming fruit, which is important for the survival of certain plant species. While coatis are foraging, they are also using their long noses to move dirt around, essentially aerating it. The increased circulation allows the soil to better absorb water and nutrients.

7. Coatis Are High-Altitude Specialists

No matter the species, coatimundis are extremely adaptable to a wide variety of habitats, including those of very high altitudes. They are found in tropical regions and open forests just as much as the slopes of the Andes Mountains, having been observed at elevations of more than 8,200 feet.

8. They Have Tails That Help Them Balance

A coatimundi walking across a fallen log in La Amistad National Park
jared lloyd / Getty Images

Unlike some fellow arboreal mammals, coatis can’t use their tails for gripping. Instead, the long and banded tails act as balancing poles while the animals are climbing. As they forage on the ground, their muscular tails are usually standing straight up. This behavior, according to San Diego Zoo researchers, may help them keep track of one another in the vegetation, like a flag marking their location.

9. They Have Double-Jointed Ankles

A ring tailed coati climbing down a tree
IJdema / Getty Images

Coatis have evolved to develop double-jointed ankles in order to help them climb trees, along with strong claws to excavate prey from logs and burrows. Their double-jointed ankles can rotate a full 180 degrees, allowing them to climb down trees headfirst with relative ease and at high speeds, helping them evade predators more easily. These joints are also extremely flexible. Their front paws are highly dexterous and can help them to escape from almost any human-made enclosure.

10. Coatis Communicate Through Chirps

While males primarily use scent marking to establish territory among other males during the mating season, females are much more social. They use a whimpering sound to communicate to their young while they are weaning and make a louder barking noise to warn others in the band of nearby danger. When the entire band gets surprised, they will jump into trees and make clicking and wooflike sounds.

11. Certain Species Are Endangered

The IUCN lists the white-nosed coati and the South American coati as species of least concern, but when the two mountain species were officially separated into western and eastern species in 2009, they became “near threatened” and “endangered,” respectively. Unfortunately, since so little is known about these animals, their conservation designations are based primarily on suspected rates of population decline.

According to the IUCN, the lack of scientifically sound population studies and habitat studies of mountain coatis in the wild are most likely leading to a severe underestimation of the ecological issues and numbers decline in Central and South America. Clarity on coati adaptability to potential threats — including deforestation, habitat conversion, and death by domestic animals — is needed to plan and execute conservation interventions.

Save the Mountain Coati

  • Raise awareness. The lack of coatimundi conservation stems from a lack of knowledge about these animals, so sharing the importance of coatimundis is essential for its overall protection.
  • Tropical and small mammals, like coatis, are often traded internationally or are victims of the illegal pet trade. Remember to never take an exotic animal home from the wild, and never release animals that have been kept as pets back into the wild.
  • With the mountain coati potentially threatened by habitat conversion and deforestation and cloud forest being converted in parts of the Andes, it's important to support reforestation projects so that coatis are less isolated and therefore less prevalent in highly populated areas where they fall victim to vehicles and hunting.
  • Whenever possible, purchase deforestation-free products that carry FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or Rainforest Alliance certifications.

Correction—September 6, 2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the taxonomic family of Red Pandas.  

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