Potos flavuskinkajou

Geographic Range

Kinkajous are distributed in neotropical forest regions from southern Tamaulipas, Mexico to southern Brazil. (Eisenburg, 1989; Kortlucke, 1973)

Habitat

Kinkajous live in a variety of forest habitats including tropical dry forest, secondary forest, Amazonian rainforest, Atlantic coastal forest, tropical evergreen forest and forests of the savannah region in Suriname. They are rarely found in palm jungle, cloud forests or thorn forests (Ford and Hoffmann 1988). Habitat requirements have not been fully investigated. (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988)

Physical Description

Potos flavus is in the carnivoran family Procyonidae (raccoons, coatis, and their relatives). Kinkajous have distinctive features that at one time were used to place them in the order Primates as Lemur flavus. Kinkajous are arboreal and possess many adaptations common to arboreal species, such as a long, fully prehensile tail, nimble clawed fingers, and fully reversible hind feet. During terrestrial locomotion, captive kinkajous exhibit a variety of unpredictable footfall patterns yet remain graceful and feline-like when moving. Kinkajous are considered “adept yet deliberate climbers” (McClearn 1992, p. 254). They utilize their extreme spinal flexibility to maneuver among the tree limbs and obtain food at terminal branches. This flexibility, which allows for a rotation of 180º between the pelvis and head, is a unique trait that distinguishes kinkajous from their close relatives, the coatis and raccoons (McClearn 1992). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; McClearn, 1992)

Kinkajous are medium-sized (2.0 to 4.6 kg) with a thick and woolly, honey-brown pelage, though different color morphs have been observed in some regions (Ford and Hoffmann 1989). They have elongated bodies with short legs, a rounded head with large eyes, a small muzzle, and round ears. A recent study on the basal metabolic rate (BMR) of carnivores, reported a BMR for kinkajous of 447.71 kJ/day (Munoz-Garcia and Williams 2005). Kinkajous are particularly well known for hanging upside-down while feeding, using their prehensile tail and hind legs for support while holding small fruits in a one-handed grasp (McClearn 1992). Little sexual dimorphism exists between males and females; however, males are known to have slightly larger canines and minor differences in skull morphology (Ford and Hoffmann 1988). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; McClearn, 1992; Munoz-Garcia and Williams, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2.0 to 4.6 kg
    4.41 to 10.13 lb
  • Range length
    820 to 1,330 mm
    32.28 to in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    4.294 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Originally, kinkajous were thought to be a solitary species that rarely exhibited sociality, but behavioral studies have revealed complex social interactions and an unusual mating system (Kays and Gittleman 2001). Kinkajous exhibit both a polygamous and polyandrous mating system. Two males, a single female, and offspring often comprise a typical social group. The system is considered polygamous because dominant males mate with the female of their home group, as well as any other females living on the periphery of the home territory and unrelated to another group (Kays 2003). Most copulation is done by the dominant male, but occasionally the subordinate male is allowed to copulate with the home group female (Kays and Gittleman 2001; Kays 2003). Genetic analysis of paternity supports the hypothesis that the dominant male monopolizes fertilizations (Kays, Gittleman, and Wayne 2000). (Kays and Gittleman, 2001; Kays, 2003; Kays, et al., 2000)

During observed copulatory events, male kinkajous spent several hours following the female in oestrus, zigzagging over multiple hectares. Scent glands seem to be used for sexual stimulation (Ford and Hoffmann 1988) and territorial marking. The subordinate male often follows closely, vocalizing and picking fights with the dominant male. Other observations have shown that both males occasionally copulate with the group female without displays of aggression. After copulation, the male and female disperse to different areas, probably to feed (Kays and Gittleman 2001). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; Kays and Gittleman, 2001)

Females are in oestrus for up to 17 days, with a peak breeding season that varies among geographic groups. Kinkajous are able to breed year-round, but seem to be roughly synchronized into a localized breeding season that is probably tied to local fruit production (Kays, personal communication). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; Kays and Gittleman, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Oestrus length is approximately 17 days, females receptive for 2 days.
  • Breeding season
    Polyoestrus, geographically variable breeding season.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    98 to 120 days
  • Average weaning age
    8 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    820 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    820 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    550 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    550 days
    AnAge

Female kinkajous are the primary providers of parental care. The males do not provide any direct care but are not aggressive toward young and have been found to regularly share fruiting trees and day dens, and will occasionally play with the pups. Parental investment is mostly associated with the unusually long gestation and lactation periods. Gestation and lactation last for a total of about eight months. Litters typically contain one pup, and, once weaned, females will often ‘park’ their offspring in a nearby tree while feeding (Kays and Gittleman 2001; Kays 2003). Females are especially voracious feeders when reproductively active due to the high costs of lactation and gestation. The high energy demands mean that it may be difficult for females to maintain total caloric intake, as well as satisfy specific nutrient requirements (Kays 2003). (Kays and Gittleman, 2001; Kays, 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory

Lifespan/Longevity

Very little in known about the average life span in the wild, but they appear to be quite long-lived based on their low reproductive rates, low predation risks, and evidence from captive animals.

Behavior

Kinkajous are strictly nocturnal and arboreal. They were also thought to be solitary, but recent studies show a complex social system comparable to other nocturnal and arboreal species. Social groups usually contain two males and a female but may include juveniles and subadults as well. Kinkajous spend the day sleeping in dens, often in the crotch or hole of a tree, and usually with members of their home group (Kays 2003). At dusk members spend time allogrooming and socializing before separating to forage (Kays and Gittleman 2001). Kinkajous will usually feed solitarily except when feeding in large fruit trees where there is less intraspecific competition because of the abundant food supply. Females are particularly sensitive to intraspecific competition due to the high energy requirements associated with their long lactation and gestation periods (Kays and Gittleman 2001). (Kays and Gittleman, 2001; Kays, 2003)

Home Range

Territoriality and home range were recently studied in a Panamanian kinkajou population. The study found that kinkajous maintain strict territorial boundaries through scent marking. Individual territories seem to rely on the nutritional requirements of reproduction for female kinkajous. Due to body size constraints, male kinkajous are only able to defend a territory large enough to provide for a single female and her offspring. It has been proposed that one of the benefits of a polyandrous mating system is that the subordinate male can help with territory defense, namely scent marking and threat vocalizations. (Kays and Gittleman, 2001; Kays, 2003)

Communication and Perception

The functions of kinkajou vocalizations have been poorly studied, yet there are a wide variety of vocalizations attributed to them (Ford and Hoffmann 1988). Kinkajous in social situations vocalize for less than 30 seconds upon first meeting a fellow group member (Kays and Gittleman 2001). Hissing and screaming are thought to occur during aggressive situations, as was described in a captive population (Kays and Gittleman 2001). The most common call is explained as a two-part snort-weedle consisting of a “quick snort sound, followed by a variable number of weedle vocalizations” (Kays and Gittleman 2001, pp. 497). That call has been observed in both solitary and social situations. Other recorded vocalizations have included barks, chirps, squeaks, nasal grunts, whistles, and clicking (in the case of a captive female during oestrus) (Ford and Hoffmann 1988). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; Kays and Gittleman, 2001)

Scent marking is important for sexual, territorial and social communication. These often involve marking tree branches using mandibular, throat, and abdominal glands. Kinkajous seem to rely on auditory and olfactory cues to communicate with one another.

Food Habits

Potos flavus is a primarily opportunistic frugivore that feeds on a variety of plant species in several families according to seasonal abundance (Julien-Laferrière, 2001). Fruit selection seems to be based on abundance and accessibility to edible parts rather than color, size, nutritional value, seed content, or general morphology of the fruits (Julien-Laferrière, 2001). Fruits are mostly ingested when ripe, but some observations show that kinkajous will also consume unripe fruits of particular species. Several studies have suggested that figs are an important part of the kinkajou diet and can make up as much as half of the diet. Figs are important to many frugivores throughout the tropics because of abundance and year-round availability (Janzen, 1979). Fig preference may also be attributed to a high nutrient content, especially calcium, relative to other tropical fruiting species (Kays, 1999). (Janzen, 1979; Julien-Laferrière, 2002; Kays, 1999)

Kinkajous spend much of the night foraging solitarily in fruit trees. However, occasional feeding pairs have been observed and contain mainly male pairs or females with offspring (Kays 1999). Kinkajous may use known trail systems to return to familiar fruit trees (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988; Kays, 1999)

Kinkajous possess a curiously long, extensible tongue that has lead many to believe they also feed on small insects or nectar. Some studies have shown that, in certain populations and during particular seasons, insects can account for a significant portion of their diet. Ants are especially well represented and have led some to believe that kinkajous should also be considered myrmecophagous (Redford 1989). Most data seem to support the idea that kinkajous are primarily frugivorous but will supplement their diet with insects, flowers, and nectar depending on seasonal availability. (Redford, et al., 1989)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers

Predation

Predation threats for kinkajous are relatively low because of their arboreality and nocturnal feeding strategy. Most predation probably occurs during the day when kinkajous are sleeping in their dens. Aerial raptors like Isidor’s eagles (Oroaetus isidori) and harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) have been observed consuming kinkajous. Jaguars (Panthera onca) are also known to occasionally eat kinkajous. However, the primary kinkajou predator is humans. Kinkajous make good pets and their thick, soft fur makes them a valued commodity in commerce (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988). Also, kinkajou meat is supposedly delicious and hundreds are exported dead or alive from South America each year (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988). (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Kinkajous are active seed dispersers and possibly pollinators as well. Their frugivorous diet means that they consume large quantities of seeds, and most seeds seem to pass through their digestive system intact (Julien-Laferrière, 2001). In one study, seeds that were defecated by kinkajous germinated faster than those that were cleaned or intact (Julien-Laferrière, 2001). Kinkajous may also act as plant pollinators. Field observations have found that kinkajous will occasionally feed on nectar using their long tongues, and in the process collect a face-load of pollen that they disperse to other plants (Kays 1999). (Julien-Laferrière, 2002; Kays, 1999)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Kinkajous are economically important in the pet and fur trades. Hundreds of live animals and skins are exported each year from Peru (Ford and Hoffmann 1988). They also provide meat for local people. Ecologically, kinkajous contribute to the health of forest ecosystems through seed dispersal and pollination. (Ford and Hoffmann, 1988)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Kinkajous do not seem to seriously impact humans and are rarely seen because of their nocturnal habits, but they have been known to be a nuisance on coconut plantations where they eat immature fruits (Kays, personal communication).

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Habitat destruction caused by humans has decreased the range and population size of kinkajous. Deforestation probably accounts for the majority of the habitat destruction. Kinkajous are also harvested for their soft pelts and flavorful meat, which can make them susceptible to over-harvest. They are difficult to study so population estimates are probably inaccurate.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Dara Rehder (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Eisenburg, J. 1989. Mammals of the Neotropics: The Northern Neotropics, Vol. 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd.

Ford, L., R. Hoffmann. 1988. Potos flavus. Mammalian species, 321: 1-9.

Janzen, D. 1979. How to be a fig. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 10: 13-51.

Julien-Laferrière, D. 2002. Frugivory and seed dispersal by kinkajous. Monographiae Biologicae, 80: 217-225.

Kays, R. 1999. Food preferences of kinkajous (Potos flavus): A frugivorous carnivore. Journal of Mammalogy, 80(2): 589-599.

Kays, R. 2003. Social polyandry and promiscuous mating in a primate-like carnivore: the kinkajou (Potos flavus). Pp. 125-137 in U Reichard, C Boesch, eds. Monogamy: mating strategies and partnerships in birds, humans and other mammals. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kays, R., J. Gittleman. 2001. The social organization of the kinkajou Potos flavus (Procyonidae). Journal of Zoology, 253: 491-504.

Kays, R., J. Gittleman, R. Wayne. 2000. Microsatellite analysis of kinkajou social organization. Molecular Ecology, 9(6): 743-751.

Kortlucke, S. 1973. Morphological variation in the kinkajou, Potos flavus (Mammalia: Procyonidae), in Middle America. Lawrence, Kansas: The University of Kansas Museum of Natural History.

McClearn, D. 1992. Locomotion, posture, and feeding behavior of kinkajous, coatis, and raccoons. Journal of Mammalogy, 73(2): 245-261.

Munoz-Garcia, A., J. Williams. 2005. Basal Metabolic Rate in Carnivores Is Associated with Diet after Controlling for Phylogeny. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 78(6): 1039-1056.

Redford, K., A. MacLean Stearman, J. Trager. 1989. The kinkajou (Potos flavus) as a myrmecophage. Mammalia, 53(1): 132-134.