The coati, Nasua nasua, also known as the hog-nosed coon, is a member of the raccoon family (Procyonidae); a diurnal mammal native to South, Central and south-western North America. The word coatimundi is a commonly used misnomer applied to solitary adult male N. nasua. The term is reported to be derived from the Tupi language (Brazil). Reports that this term is from the Guarani language are likely untrue.
The coati is a mammal related to the raccoon, but the species has a characteristic, long snout with somewhat pig-like features and bear-like paws.
Ring-Tailed coatis have a either a light brown or black coat, with a lighter under-part and a white-ringed tail in most cases. All coatis share a slender head with an elongated, slightly upward-turned nose, small ears, dark feet and a long, non-prehensile tail used for balance and signalling.
Adults measure 41 to 67 cm from head to the base of the tail, which will add 30 to 60 cm to their length. Coatis are about 30 cm tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 3 and 8 kg, about the size of a large housecat. Males can become almost twice as large as females and have large, sharp canine teeth.
They have strong limbs to climb and dig, and have a reputation for intelligence, like their fellow procyonid the raccoon.
Coatis walk on the soles of their feet, like the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), but contrary to their much bigger relatives, coatis are able to descend trees headfirst thanks to a double-jointed, flexible ankle.
They prefer to sleep or rest in elevated places and niches, like the rainforest canopy, in crudely-built sleeping nests.
Habitat and range
The coati is a widespread species living in habitats ranging from hot and arid areas to humid Amazonian rainforests or even cold Andean mountain slopes.
The following species have been scientifically described:
South American Coati Nasua Nasua
Brown- or White-nosed Coati Nasua narica
Nelson's Coati Nasua nelsoni
Wedel's Coati Nasua wedeli
Mountain or Andean Coati Nasuella olivacea
The coati species cited above have different geographical occurrences and can be told apart by their size, build, voice, and their hide colour.
In the wild, coatis live for about 7 to 8 years, while in captivity they can live for up to 15 years.
The coati is an omnivore; its diet consists mainly of ground litter invertebrates and fruit . Predation on vertebrates is very rare.
The snout, with a formidable sense of smell, assists the skilled paws in a hog-like manner to unearth invertebrates.
Coati females and young males up to 2 years of age are gregarious and travel through their territories in noisy, loosely-organized bands made up of 4 to 25 individuals, foraging with their offspring on the ground or in the forest's canopy. Males over 2 years become solitary due to behavioural disposition and collective aggression from the females, and will join the female groups only during the breeding season.
When provoked, or for defense, coatis can be fierce fighters: their strong jaws, sharp canine teeth, and fast scratching paws, along with a tough hide sturdily attached to the underlying muscles, make it very difficult for predators to seize the small mammal.
The coati communicates its intentions or moods with chirping, snorting or grunting sounds. Different chirping sounds are used to express joy during social grooming, appeasement after fights, or to convey irritation or anger.
Snorting while digging, along with an erect tail, states territorial or food claims during foraging.
Coatis additionally use special postures or moves to convey simple messages; for example, hiding the nose between the front paws as a sign for submission; lowering the head, baring teeth and jumping at an enemy signal an aggressive disposition.
Individuals recognize other coatis by their looks, voices and smells, the individual smell is intensified by special musk-glands on their necks and bellies.
The coati's breeding season mainly corresponds with the start of the rainy season to coincide with maximum availability of food, especially fruits: between January and March in some areas, and between October and February in others. During the breeding season, an adult male is accepted into the band of females and juveniles near the beginning of the breeding season, leading to a polygynous mating system.
The pregnant females separate from the group, build a nest on a tree or in a rocky niche and, after a gestation period of about 11 weeks, give birth to litters of 3 to 7 young. About six weeks after birth, the females and their young will rejoin the band. Females become sexually mature at 2 years of age, while males will acquire sexual maturity at 3 years of age.
Natural enemies include jaguarundis, foxes, tayras, ocelots, jaguars, hawks, eagles, and humans .
The coati faces unregulated hunting and the serious threat of environmental destruction in Central and South America. The absence of scientifically sound population studies of Nasua or Nasuella in the wild is probably leading to a severe underestimation of the ecological problems and decline in numbers affecting the species in Central and South America.
Successful adaptation to life in human proximity (e.g. similar to raccoons living in metropolitan areas in the U.S.) is very unlikely; the species is thus threatened by habitat destruction.
Coatis in captivity
Coatis are not domesticated animals and are therefore not recommended as house pets. This small creature is wild, very difficult to control or train, and generally behaves radically different from a pet dog. Nevertheless, they are often domesticated for their desirable traits.
Coatis are small, curious and intelligent mammals, which are considered interesting, fun and endearing by their owners most of the time. However, they are prone to mischief and can be very destructive in a household or garden without constant supervision.
In contrast to dogs and cats, coatis have not been bred to blindly accept authority. They are naturally selfish and will more often than not ignore their owner's authority or commands. Coati training is a difficult task. The small mammals will try to constantly improve their hierarchical status in the household, which implies aggressive confrontations. This can pose serious problems for a family with small children. Strangers will not be accepted easily, and neighbours are likely to face similar problems.
The coati is a very social animal and will require a lot of attention from its owner. In their natural habitat, infant coatis sleep close to their mothers in order to avoid becoming easy prey for predators. Selective pressure has consequently created a very strong innate attachment of the young to their mother.
Because of this, young coatis under the age of 6 months are especially demanding and will suffer without an assuring maternal presence during day and night time; abandoning the infant coati alone in a cage at night time is a cruel conduct and should be strictly avoided.
Apart from a big cage, the presence of a spacious garden should be imperative for the good keeping of a coati; excursions into the owner's house or garden must ideally be the animal's daily routine to allow for exercise, climbing and digging. Strict cage or room captivity is not to be considered an option. Declawing or removing the canine teeth is not recommended, and is considered superfluous under good keeping conditions.
Although male coatis have impressive canine teeth, they tend to be less irritable and aggressive than females, which can become exceedingly difficult to handle during their breeding season. It is recommended that male coatis be neutered if they are not to be bred; an unneutered male coati may become difficult to handle with age.
Broken dishes, stolen food, urine stains on the carpet, faeces behind the sofa, minor or even serious lesions are typical accidents when keeping a tame coati at home. A sturdy pair of leather gloves is a good protection in the case of conflicts between coati and human.
Strong-smelling chemicals like wood varnish, oil paints, soaps, thinner, acetone, diesel, etc., must be kept out of reach. These scents attract tame coatis, which then try to perfume their tails with the chemicals, putting the animal in danger.
Although coatis are territorial to a certain degree, the risk of the animal leaving the owner's property is high due to its curiosity, predatory interests, and agility. This behavior can result in very serious fights with the neighbourhood pets — although some coatis are known to play for hours with friendly dogs.
Being omnivores, coatis accept a varied diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, eggs, roots, nuts, and meat.
Avocados, carrots, bananas, oranges, papayas and pineapples have proven to be healthy, but bread, cheese, bits of bacon or steak, poultry or other human food are equally welcome.
Sweets like chocolate or spicy treats like dinner-mints are highly appreciated by coatis, but should not be given on a daily basis; rather as special rewards; e.g., if the coati has returned to its cage on its own.
Coffee or cola should not be encouraged, but accidental small amounts of caffeine-containing beverages are of no critical consequence. Alcohol and excessive sugar or fatty food should be avoided.
Very young coatis find it difficult to drink liquids (e.g. water-diluted milk) from a bowl, because the coordination of raising their snout above water level and dipping the tongue into the liquid at the same time is not acquired until several weeks after birth. Bottle-feeding is therefore crucial when a natural mother is absent.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Coatimundi