White Nosed Coati (Nasua narica): New World Ringtail with Noxious Scent Glands for Defensive Volleys

by DerdriuMarriner

The White Nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a ring-tailed mammal native to the New World from southwestern United States southward into northern South America.

Which one is it if it walks like a bear, looks like a cat with an aardvark’s snout and a raccoon’s tail, and grunts like a pig?

If the encounter takes place anywhere between the southwestern United States of America and Colombia, then the animal is not a hallucination or a hybrid.

It is the white-nosed coati, one of the raccoon family Procynidae’s cat-like members.

White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) snuggling on branch

northern Guatemala
northern Guatemala

Nasua narica's placement as a mammal


White-nosed coatis answer to any of a number of common and scientific names. Common names include:

  • Hog-nosed coon, crackoon, and snookum bear in English;
  • Coatí norteño, cholugo, gatosolo, moncún, pizote and tejón in Spanish.

Their scientific name is Nasua narica. They occupy the same genus as:

  • Cozumel island coatis, Nasua narica nelsoni;
  • South American coatis, Nasua nasua.

The Cozumel, South American, and white-nosed coati genus thus far resists inclusion of:

  • Eastern mountain coatis -- Nasuella meridensis -- in Venezuela;
  • Western mountain coatis -- Nasuella olivacea -- in Colombia and Ecuador.

Recategorization ultimately responds to genetic analyses, whose data-gathering is hindered by difficult access to dwindling populations.


Outside their genus, white-nosed coatis appear to most resemble two fellow feline-looking procyonids:

  • Cacomistles (Bassariscus sumichrasti);
  • Ringtails (Bassariscus astutus).


But genetic studies identify olingos (Bassaricyon) as closer relatives. Both genera partially overlap geographically since olingos inhabit Central and South American rainforests, from Nicaragua into Peru. Scientists speculate that the two genera overlap genetically in a common ancestor differentiating into coati and olingo lines of descent about 10,200,000 years ago.

illustrations of olingo species: close relatives of white-nosed coati

top to bottom: Bassaricyon neblina ruber (western slopes of Western Andes, Colombia); Bassaricyon medius orinomus (eastern Panama); Bassaricyon alleni (Peru); Bassaricyon gabbii (Costa Rica)
Relative tail length shown longer than average for Bassaricyon gabbii (bottom)
Relative tail length shown longer than average for Bassaricyon gabbii (bottom)

Externals: what white-nosed coatis look like


Mature white-nosed coati head-and-body and tail lengths each attain 20-25 inches (51-63 centimeters). Mature shoulder heights average 12 inches (30 centimeters). Mature body weights hover around 5.5-27 pounds (2.5-12.2 kilograms). Lower ranges represent adult female dimensions. Adult males tend to be twice as heavy, long, tall and wide as females.


Forty sharp teeth bolster powerful jaws. An elongated, slightly upward-turned snout flexing 60° in all directions explains the white-nosed coati’s description as a hog-nosed raccoon. Black-, dark brown- or purple-colored, rounded eyes look blue-green or gold at night, in nightlights or on film. A white line straddles each side of the upper snout while a white spot fills the space:

  • Above and below each eye;
  • Between each ear and eye;
  • Near each corner of the mouth.

Rounded ears top an aardvark- and fox-like slender head.


The white-nosed coati’s tail and upper-sides are grizzled brown. The under-sides look beige or buff. The tail showcases indistinct, raccoon-like, unbroken rings. It tends to be held upright when white-nosed coatis are ambulatory or paused and straight -- with a cat-like swishing tip -- when they are contemplative or content. It will curl around stumps and branches as the white-nosed coati descends super-steep slopes and trees.


Each dark, bear- and raccoon-like paw has a non-retractable claw on each of five toes. Each ankle rotates 180°+ to facilitate head-first, squirrel-like descents. Coatis walk human-like, on the soles of their paws.


White-nosed coatis: in habitat

illustration by Alfred Edmund Brehm (February 2, 1829 - November 11, 1884)
Alfred Brehm, Brehms Tierleben - Säugetiere Vol. 2 (1900), opp. p. 278
Alfred Brehm, Brehms Tierleben - Säugetiere Vol. 2 (1900), opp. p. 278

White-nosed Coati: habitat versatility


A white-nosed coati look is amalgamated. The same may be said of their domiciles. Coatis tolerate:

  • North America’s arid, hot semi-deserts;
  • Central America’s neotropical bushes and grasslands;
  • South America’s tropical mountainsides and rainforests.


White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) range

Distribution data from IUCN Red List
Distribution data from IUCN Red List

White-nosed coatis: as predator, as prey


A coati’s diet appears equally flexible, omnivorous and opportunistic. It includes:

  • Invertebrates such as insects, scorpions, snails, tarantulas, and worms;
  • Vertebrates such as birds, lizards, and mice.

Coatis additionally relish:

  • Bird and crocodile eggs;
  • Fruits.

They generally will bare teeth, grunt, lower heads and pounce upon mealtime intruders.


Natural enemies confront one of two extreme reactions to a white-nosed coati’s becoming another predator’s meal. They face crushing between powerful jaws or impaling under super-sharp claws and teeth. Or they hear plaintive chirps while scared-stiff white-nosed coatis cover their snouts with their front paws before such virulent predators as:

  • Dogs and tayras;
  • Eagles and hawks;
  • Foxes;
  • Jaguars, jaguarondi and ocelots.

They will fight most valiantly when white-faced capuchin monkeys attempt to abduct or kill coati pups. They will practice accommodation -- when residential developments proliferate -- or retreat to loftier, remoter, steeper locations when agro-industrialists clear-cut landscapes and hunters seek a white-nosed coati’s scrumptious flesh and warm fur.


In all of the above-mentioned scenarios, coatis consider the repulsion factor. They never forget their neck- and belly-located scent glands. They always have the option of readjusting their ever-present, ever-so-slightly musky body odor to gagging levels or of releasing volleys into predatory eyes and mouth.


white-nosed coati "on the fence": friendly and/or inquisitive?

Costa Rica
Costa Rica

Environmental encounters


Encounters with white-nosed coatis are unforgettable. In-the-wild occurrences involve one of two memorable extremes: large-group or one-on-one interactions. Groups tend to contain 4-25 females and juveniles. Members travel in close or loose proximity. Regardless of the outing’s purpose, all members utter loud noises almost continuously.


A solitary white-nosed coati often can be assumed to be male. Upon reaching sexual maturity at age two, a female coati usually forms or joins bands with other females. At the beginning of the rainy season -- January at higher altitudes, October in lower elevations -- the group invites solitary males -- whose sexual maturity is reached at age three -- to join for mating purposes. Females oust all adult males from the group at the end of the mating and rainy seasons -- March higher up, February lower down.


Mothers-to-be temporarily abjure membership in the band. They build nests among rocks or in trees. They deliver 3 to 7 kits 11 to 12 weeks later. They join their original group when the kits are six weeks old. All skill-acquisition passes from the mother to the kit, the pup and the juvenile.


Adult females can be cautious of human interactions. They communicate that wariness to their young. But at the same time, a white-nosed coati of any age is super-intelligent and ultra-observant. Many a North American near deserts and Central or South American near jungles know from personal experience of the tamability and trainability of white-nosed coatis.


foragers: group of white nosed coatis along side of road

Costa Rica
Costa Rica

Human interface: preserving safe environments


Coatis and their relatives -- cacomistles, common and crab-eating raccoons, kinkajous, ringtails -- are popular pets from southern North America through Central and South America. Captivity doubles white-nosed coati lifespans, from 7-8 years to 15-20. It is acceptable to females and juveniles.


Secure pathways between indoor and outdoor spaces dissipate a coati’s diurnal energy and nocturnal restlessness. Coatis enjoy climbing steps, investigating treehouses, and navigating rooftops. They learn to:

  • Accept neutering and spaying;
  • Endure distemper and rabies vaccines;
  • Play “Fetch!” and “Hide-and-seek!”;
  • Sleep in escape-proof, wire-meshed enclosures embellished by hollow logs, resting niches, scattered branches, and water sources on sand-/soil-/vegetation-covered concrete flooring;
  • Tolerate veterinary check-ups for diabetes, ear mites, fleas, fractures, frostbite, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and leptospirosis;
  • Use litter boxes;
  • Walk on tightropes or with leashes.

They reject diets:

  • Heavy on (kidney-disabling) proteins;
  • Restricted to pet food.

 They resist prohibitions on:

  • Digging -- which controls nail overgrowth -- for grubs and tubers;
  • Trying “people food.”

They savor:

  • Daily helpings of fruits, nuts and vegetables;
  • Monthly treats of beef, crickets, eggs, mealworms, poultry, and taurine-rich crustaceans and mollusks to replenish animal tissue-specific organic acids.

Clean surroundings, fresh food, and regular exercise will make the difference between happy and unhappy white-nosed coatis and their caregivers.  


Cautious domestication of exotic pets sometimes advances understanding Earth’s wilder moments. It sometimes leads to environmental awareness and sustainability. Nature preserves, protective legislation, and responsible development make the world safe for white-nosed coatis and coati-lovers.


white-nosed young'un looking almost fox-like

Nasua narica in the Yucatán Peninsula, southeastern Mexico
Nasua narica in the Yucatán Peninsula, southeastern Mexico



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.


an upturned snout and "capable of a considerable amount of motion" (Richard Lydekker [1894], p. 43)

illustration by Pierre Jacques Smit (1863–1960)
Richard Lydekker, ed., The Royal Natural History (1894), Vol II Section III, opp. p. 44
Richard Lydekker, ed., The Royal Natural History (1894), Vol II Section III, opp. p. 44

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Coati (Nasua narica) crossing sign post

road to Tikal, northern Guatemala
road to Tikal, northern Guatemala
the end, which is also the beginning
the end, which is also the beginning

White Nosed Coati in Costa Rica: photo by Stefan Meyer.

Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed 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 White-nosed Coati from Ardea Wildlife Pets

A group of white nosed coatis, tails held high, in Costa Rica: photo by M. Watson/Ardea

Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed 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 White-nosed Coati from Ardea Wildlife Pets

Tall Tails From A Mountain Slope/Los rabos altos de la ladera

Through the words of Maria Retana and the illustrations of Salva Ferrando, enter the world of white-nosed coatis.
white-nosed coati-themed books

White-Nosed Coati (Nasua Narica), Sonora Desert, Arizona, USA: photo by Tom Walker

White-Nosed Coati (Nasua Narica), Sonora Desert, Arizona, USA

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 12/21/2013

AbbyFitz, Me, too: I'd welcome a scampering coati in my yard, as well.

AbbyFitz on 12/20/2013

These are so cute. I don't think I'd mind having one of these scamper through my yard

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