Kinkajous (Potos flavus): Ringtails That Tightrope-Walk Their Own Prehensile Tails

by DerdriuMarriner

Kinkajous are energetic extroverts as exotic pets. They delight foster families by devouring insect pests. They dismay human friends by raiding garden fruits and vegetables.

The kinkajou “look” belies the family ties of the affectionate, amusing, athletic animal. Ambler-friendly soles, higher hind and lower fore limbs, honey-brown fur, a prehensile tail, and reversible ankles indeed contribute to the arboreal nocturnalist’s reminding wildlife-lovers of such respectively unrelated mammals as:
• Bears;
• Felines;
• Foxes;
• Monkeys;
• Squirrels.

The kinkajou instead claims membership in the raccoon family of mammals, Procyonidae. Kinkajous therefore descend from the same ancestor as such fellow winsome procyonids as:
• Cacomistles of Mexico and Central America;
• Coatis of Central, North and South America;
• Olingos of Central and South America and olinguitos of South America;
• Ringtail cats of North America.

Wildlife-lovers may confuse kinkajaous and olingos. They never mistake kinkajous for the ultimate procyonids, raccoons.

baby kinkajou

a baby named Digit
a baby named Digit


Membership in the scientific classification Potos flavus belongs only to kinkajous. The genus divides into seven subspecies:

  • Potos flavus flavus
  • Potos flavus chapadensis
  • Potos flavus chiriquensis
  • Potos flavus megalotus
  • Potos flavus meridensis
  • Potos flavus modestus
  • Potos flavus nocturnus

Each subspecies expresses differences in:

  • Biogeography; 
  • Pelage; 
  • Size. 

All inspire a plethora of common names in:

  • English: honey bear; 
  • Portuguese: jupará
  • Runa Simi (Quechua/Quichua): cuchicuchi, cuchumbí, cusu, cusumbo, and huasa
  • Spanish: chosne, kinkajú, lirón, martilla, martucha, mico de noche, mico león, mono michimono nocturno, and perro de monte

The original form seems to be quincajou despite Algonquian language-speakers of eastern Canada and the northern and western United States living well outside the omnivore’s North through South American ranges.


kinkajou: 19th century illustration as synonymous Potos caudivolvulus

1/5 de grand. nat. (1/5 natural size)
Charles d'Orbigny, Atlas-Dictionnaire Universel (1867), Tome premier, Plate 7B
Charles d'Orbigny, Atlas-Dictionnaire Universel (1867), Tome premier, Plate 7B

In terms of kinkajous, honey evokes:

  • The affection with which animal-lovers and pet-owners greet the playful omnivore;
  • The color of the daytime sleeper’s outer coat;
  • The sweetener which rivals fructose in satisfying sweet-tooth cravings.

Along with fruit in captivity and the wild, honey -- in captivity and domestication -- gives kinkajous ample reason to congregate in quintets to make loud sounds and shovel noisy bites. It is the color of the wooly coat until the pelage ages into congruence with the opportunistic arthropod-muncher’s light grey undercoat. The color remains uniform from snout- to tail-tip. It sets off the tree-dweller’s large eyes and small ears. It works to camouflage the fleet fruit-eater among above-ground foliage and surface-level underbrush.


A kinkajou’s body additionally acknowledges the nocturnal procyonid’s daily survivalist concerns. Hind limbs more muscled than fore assist the agile predator in:

  • Descending slopes and trunks, head-first and squirrel-like;
  • Jumping down from -- and up to -- heights;
  • Rock-hopping or swimming streams;
  • Tightrope-walking branches, bridgelets, and vines.

All extremities end in paws whose adult measurements are 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) long by 1.5 inches (3.81 centimeters) wide for forelimbs and 2.25 inches (5.72 centimeters) long by 1.25 inches (3.18 centimeters) wide for rear. Foot-like hind tracks have elongated, spaced digits. Hand-like front tracks have rounded, spaced digits. Each digit showcases a claw whose overgrowth climbing, digging and grasping controls and whose sharpness leaves fine holes in mud. 


extraordinary aerialist: kinkajou's acrobatic skills

southwestern Nicaragua
southwestern Nicaragua

Kinkajou bodies indeed are agile in their muscular prowess and attractive in their streamlined beauty. The adult kinkajou averages mature body weights of 3 - 10 pounds (1.4 - 4.6 kilograms). Mature head-and-body lengths can fluctuate between 16 and 24 inches (40 and 60 centimeters). The mature lengths of the kinkajou’s upward-curling, vertically-held tail echo adult head-and-body measurements. Males generally favor the upper of the above-mentioned ranges. Females generally hover at sizes and weights 1/3+ less than mature males.  They manage to “keep their figures” despite breeding seasons lasting year-in and year-out. They may endure two annual gestations, each one of 112 - 118 days. Each litter produces 1 - 2 blind, deaf, fur-less, tail-heavy, toothless newborns. 


Major stress accedes to the mixed group-life/solitary social organization which defines kinkajou behavior. Kinkajous are known to move in groups. They can be solitary in two contexts:

  • Foraging, which they pursue in bunches of five or in cooperation with olingos (Bassaricyon spp);
  • Group-seeking, which they relish with sexual maturity.

A group minimally consists of:

  • One adult female;
  • Two adult males;
  • Newborns and juveniles.

Groups sometimes converge into foraging and socializing bands of 12 - 30 members. The males always determine group composition and size. Group control goes from father to son. A solitary kinkajou holds that status in one of two situations:

  • Females make the rounds for next year’s group membership;
  • Foragers seek ground-level, non-fruit food sources. 


closeup of kinkajou's face

ZooParc de Bauval, Saint-Aignan, Loir-et-Cher, Central France
ZooParc de Bauval, Saint-Aignan, Loir-et-Cher, Central France


A group’s membership changes. Females do not remain past sexual maturity in their birth group. At age 2.5 years, they join groups for mating. Depending upon breedability and mortality, they live in one group about 1 - 2.5+ years. With their families, they manage to sleep up in the treetops during the day. Between sundown and sunrise, they move out of branch union-built, leaf-covered nests or roomy, shady tree cavities for:

  • Exercise, along trunks and over branches;
  • Foraging, during the five hours before midnight and the hour before dawn;
  • Mutual grooming, feline-like;
  • Socialization, in fives.

They prioritize omnivorous diets, of which:

  • Arthropods – especially ants – comprise 10% of total intake;
  • Fruits – especially tomato-sized figs (Ficus spp) – constitute 90%.


kinkajou's favorite floral nectar: balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) blossoms

South Florida
South Florida


All kinkajous appreciate flowery, fruity, leafy parts of neotropical plants, from southern Mexico southward into:

  • Northern Bolivia;
  • Southern Brazil and Peru.

Their front paws clutch the fruit while their extrudable, 1.97- to 5-inch (5- to 12.7-centimeter), slender tongues scoop the pulp. They eat entire flowers or lick just balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) blossom nectar. They therefore function as obligate pollinators and seed-dispersers for North through South America’s forest and grassland flora. Their role is as a native north of Panama and as naturalized fauna south of Mesoamerica. It results from the American land bridge -- created by the volcanically-formed Isthmus of Panama 3,000,000 - 7,000,000 years ago -- facilitating the Great American Biotic Interchange of fauna and flora. 

Great American Biotic Interchange

olive green = South American (neotropic) species whose ancestors migrated to North America; blue = North American (nearctic) species whose ancestors migrated to South America.
Great American Biotic Interchange was caused by the tectonic creation of the Isthmus of Panama in the late Pliocene.
Great American Biotic Interchange was caused by the tectonic creation of the Isthmus of Panama in the late Pliocene.


Kinkajous act as environmentally-friendly obligate species in altitudes from sea level to 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) in:

  • Closed-canopy tropical rainforests in lowlands and on mountains;
  • Dry forests of deciduous trees and underbrush;
  • Gallery forests of grassy, sparsely wooded savannas and wetlands;
  • Secondary forests in disturbed environments;
  • Tropical evergreen forests.

They nevertheless are absent from the drier, more open habitats of:

  • Argentina;
  • Chile;
  • Paraguay;
  • Uruguay.

They therefore articulate habitat preferences which echo those of the look-alike olingo of Central and South America. But appearances can be deceiving: the coati is the kinkajou’s closest relative. The kinkajou and the olingo get along well enough to:

  • Forage and socialize together;
  • Tolerate temporary membership of one another in each other’s bands.


Conclusion: A playful nocturnalist with noise issues


Kinkajous can be charmingly odorless, playful, quiet pets. Unlike olingos -- whose name comes from the Spanish word oliente (“foul-smelling”) -- kinkajous do not have skunk-like anal scent glands. They employ belly-, mouth- and throat-based scent glands to mark territory and travel. They thereby enforce territorial rights against night monkeys (Aotus spp) and olingos -- with whom they socialize -- when resources are sparse. The photogenic cat-monkey nevertheless evidences inquisitive intelligence toward game-playing and meal-sharing with non-predatory animals and people. But as actress Paris Hilton (born February 17, 1981) knows from experiences with Baby Luv in 2005-2007, kinkajous may resort to biting, clawing and screaming when awakened during daytime naps or startled by sudden movements and sounds.


In their native Neotropics, kinkajous are valued for:

  • Cooperation concerning research scientists in nature preserves;
  • Friendliness involving locals in non-confining interactions as wild pets;
  • Income regarding traders in exotic meats and pelts.


Captivity or domestication doubles or quadruples a kinkajou’s expected lifespan to 24 - 40+ years. Wildland-urban interfaces of fostering and protective relationships generate few proscriptions:

  • Adhere to consistent behaviors while avoiding extreme negativity or positivity;
  • Avoid dairy- or protein-heavy diets since weaning leaves kinkajous lactose-intolerant of milk-based products except yoghurt;
  • Contact veterinarians about kinkajou propensities for fruit-browned teeth and susceptibilities to rabies and roundworms (Baylisascaris spp);
  • Cordon fruit and vegetable gardens and supplies.

The appreciation is obvious in the kinkajou’s analytically observant, photogenically wide-eyed gaze. 

kinkajou at 3 months

Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital, League City, southeastern Texas
Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital, League City, southeastern Texas



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


kinkajou climbing through the trees on Guadalcanal, South-Western Pacific: c. 1942 photo

collection of Clifton B. Cates (COLL/3157)
collection of Clifton B. Cates (COLL/3157)

Sources Consulted

de la Rosa C.L.; Nocke C.C.. (2000). A Guide to the Carnivores of Central America: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Texas Press. 

d'Orbigny, Charles. Dictionnaire Universel d'Histoire Naturelle. Atlas de la Deuxième Édition. Zoologie: Races Humaines, Mammifères et Oiseaux. Tome Premier. Paris: Abel Pilon et Cie, n.d. (1867).

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:

Eisenburg J.F. (1989). Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 1: The Northern Neotropics. University of Chicago Press. 

Eisenberg J.F.; Redford, K.H. (2000). Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 3: The Central Neotropics. University of Chicago Press. 

Ford L.S.; Hoffmann R.S. (27 December 1988). "Potos flavus." Mammalian Species 321:1-9. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

Glatston A.R. (1994). "The Red Panda, Olingos, Coatis, Raccoons, and Their Relatives: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for Procyonids and Ailurids." International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Grzimek B. (2003). Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Volumes 12-16: Mammals I-IV, second edition. Gale Cengage Learning. 

Kays R.W. (May 1999). "Food preferences of kinkajous (Potos flavus): a frugivorous carnivore." Journal of Mammalogy 80(2):589-599. 

Kays R.; Reid F.; Schipper J.; Helgen K. (2008). "Potos flavus." In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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"Mammals: Kinkajou." San Diego Zoo Animals. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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Murie. O.J. (1984). A Field Guide to Animal Tracks, second edition. Houghton Mifflin Company Peterson Field Guide Series. 

Nowak R.M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press. 

"Potos flavus." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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"Potos flavus (Schreber, 1774)." ITIS Standard Report Page. Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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"Potos flavus Schreber 1774 (kinkajou)." Fossilworks Paleobiology Database. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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Wozencraft W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora: Species Potos flavus." In: Wilson D.E.; Reeder D.M. (Eds.). Mammal Species of the World: a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved on January 14, 2014. 

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kinkajou (Potus flavus)

Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, western Panama
Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, western Panama
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Kinkajou in Belize's Sugar Bear Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: photo by Thomas Marent.

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. In black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Kinkajou, Sugar Bear from Ardea Wildlife Pets

Kinkajou in Rio Napo, Ecuador: photo by Hans Dionys Dossenbach

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. In black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Kinkajou from Ardea Wildlife Pets

photo of kinkajou by Andy Teare

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. In black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Kinkajou from Ardea Wildlife Pets

North and South America: black t-shirt

Kinkajou's homelands span both North and South American continents.
North and South America
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 01/21/2014

Tolovaj, Kinkajous are unknown to many, even though they are very pleasing as exotic pets. I'm glad that you enjoyed the photos.

Tolovaj on 01/19/2014

I never heard about them. Lovely photos!

DerdriuMarriner on 01/14/2014

Jo, Yes, they are adorable!

JoHarrington on 01/14/2014

They are so ridiculously cute!

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