White-nosed Coatimundi

Nasua narica

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Family

Procyonidae (Racoon Family)


Habitat, Range, and Abundance
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Range Map. Credit to: http://www.theanimalfiles.com/mammals/carnivores/coati_white_nosed.html

White-nosed coatimundi, or Pizote as they are referred to in Spanish, occupy diverse wooded habitats, which range from temperate oak and pine forests to lowland tropical rainforests, and, on occasion their range extends into deserts and savannahs (Gompper, 1995). They are found from southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas southward throughout Mexico and Central America as far south as Columbia (Gompper, 1995).

Population density is greater in the tropics than in the southwestern U.S. However, both populations fluctuate as a result of disease and food availability (Gompper, 1995). In one study,conducted by Vaughan and McCoy (1984) population density for Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica was estimated to be 70 individuals/km2, although sample sizes were small (Gompper, 1995). According to Fernando, A Le Selva field guide, they are the most common mammal in Costa Rica. Although, perhaps less commonly seen due to the reduction of apex predators such as the jaguar. At La Selva, this resulted in an increase of in the peccary population. Coatimundi tend to avoid interaction with this species, thus, becoming less overtly visible.



Coloration and Morphology
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Distinct coloration, nose, and tail

White-nosed coatimundis are related to the raccoon and, according to Fernando they behave very similarly to a raccoon. However, they are easily distinguishable based on a variety of physical features. Coatis have a long, slender tail, which is equal in length to their body and head. They will often hold their tail upright when searching for food. Coatis have a distinct elongated beak or rostrum which ends with a flexible nose or rhinarium that protrudes beyond the lower jaw. They have long claws with naked toes, which walk flat on the ground. They have short ears and canines which are more bladelike than raccoons. Coat coloration is variable. Their coat color ranges from pale to reddish-brown to dark brown to almost black. The coat is often overlaid with a yellowish to silver tint. Their neck and shoulders are yellowish to white, while their muzzle, chin, and throat are less yellow and closer to white. Similar to a raccoon, their eyes are masked with a pale umber to brown. Thin whitish streaks extend over the muzzle and around the eyes. There are yellow to whitish patches behind their ears and the ears themselves are tipped white. Their underparts or stomach can range from yellowish to dark brown. Their feet are almost black. The tail usually continues the coat color however, it is usually ringed with yellow or brown, which is sometimes barely visible (Gompper, 1995). Adults males are, on average, 30 percent heavier than adult females and nearly 8 percent larger (Valenzuela, 1998).


Ecology

Predators of the coati include felids (members of the cat family), raptors (birds of prey), snakes, and primates. Adult male coatis have been known to kill juveniles (Gompper,1995).

Parasites, which include but are not limited to tapeworms, kidney worms, lungworms, and nematodes as well as ectoparasites, which include but are not limited to chewing lice, mites, fleas, chiggers, bot fly larvae, and ticks are all considerable dangers to the health and well being of the coatis. Mutual grooming may help to control external parasites. Coatis are also vulnerable to a multitude of diseases which include tuberculosis, rabies, and canine distemper, which is a particular problem because as it is easily spread due to the gregarious nature of the coatis (Gompper, 1995).

White-nosed coatis have a few food competitors. Coatis are considered generalist feeders and, in Mexico, for example, share the same diet as the coyote and grey fox. Night monkeys and kinkajous compete with the coati for fruit, however because night monkeys and kinkajous are nocturnal they rarely encounter the coati. However, white-faced monkeys are direct competitors with the coati for fruit in trees. When the white-faced monkeys are around, the coati will usually return to the ground or will be actively chased out of the tree by the white-faced monkeys. Oftentimes, coatis will remain under a fruit tree where the white-faced monkeys are feeding in order to eat the fruit parts that are dropped (Gompper, 1995).

Coatis are also hunted by man. A study conducted in 1991 found that it was commonplace to sell coati skins. In Northern Mexico coatis are hunted for food which has led to the decline of populations. New Mexico during a 1970’s predator control campaign indiscriminately poisoned many coatis greatly reducing their population size. Today, in New Mexico, coatis are legally protected animals. They are also legally protected in Honduras by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Gompper, 1995). However, Coatimundi cannot be protected from cars and thus, are often hit and killed by vehicles while attempting to cross the road.

Coatis have been observed performing mutualistic behaviors with tapirs. They will often eat the ticks from the coats of tapirs. They may have a symbiotic relationship with the Balsa tree. They have been observed potentially pollinating the Balsa in search of nectar or insects (Mora, Mendez & Gomez, 1999).



Behavior

Adult male coatis are generally solitary, while females and their offspring (usually two years and younger) are gregarious and form bands of up to 25 individuals (Gompper, 1995). Because males over the age of two are generally solitary harem formation is unlikely. Thus, the single coatimundi spotted crossing the street in Costa Rica was likely an adult male, while the band of coati observed at La Selva were likely females and juveniles. The bands generally consist of related members, however, unrelated members have been found within the bands. Sometimes males will form long-term associations with bands in order to gain protection from other males, gain protection from potential predators, and possibly to reduce ectoparasite load. Fighting between males during mating season is very common. It has been found that 30 percent of males incur bite wounds. During the breeding season males become submissive to the females and immatures and will often groom their potential mates (Gompper, 1995).

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Band of 9 coatimundi foraging at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica
As mentioned before white-nosed coatis are gregarious within bands and perform a variety of social behaviors. They often take part in cooperative grooming and nursing. They are also vigilant and display aggressive anti-predator behavior. Generally, bands do not interact, however peaceful interactions do occur such as inter-group grooming sessions. Males are usually chased away from bands if they attempt approach by juveniles and sub-adults in a form of reciprocal altruism. This often excites members of the bands and the females groom vigorously.

White-nosed coatis do not share food, but they also do not store food. Juveniles learn what foods are good by sniffing the adults “catch”. The adults tolerate this behavior while they are feeding. When foraging a band usually creates an elliptical shape with adults and sub-adults forming the exterior, while the juveniles remain in the interior. The adults protect the juveniles by being vigilant and cooperating attacks on predators.They also assume protective positioning during flight from alarming stimuli. Coatis always flee on the ground. They will not run up a tree for protection. In fact, if alarmed in a tree they will jump down immediately. When pregnant females go off to nest, foraging patterns change. The remaining members of the band will assume rank formation, which is efficient for foraging, however leaves juveniles more vulnerable to predators. Adult male coati attacks increase during this time.

White nosed-coatis are diurnal and in undisturbed tropical habitats sleep in trees at night. In a drier climate, such as Arizona, rocky ledges and dens are used for sleep. Juveniles usually sleep in the center while adults ring the outside in order to protect the young offspring. However, in the tropical Americas where the coatis are hunted regularly for food by humans, they adjust their sleep patterns and are often more nocturnal. Rest periods, typically when food is readily available, of up to 2 hours are often taken during daylight hours.

During heavy rain, particularly in tropical areas, coatis can become very nervous. The band will stay close together with the young staying tight to their mothers. They will often run for cover and take shelter in buttresses or under palm fronds. The coatis will return to normal activity once the rain ceases. During light rain the coatis rarely react, although they may travel at an increased paced while juveniles vocalize.

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Coati climber, unfortunately killing bat pups

White-nosed coatis are both terrestrial and arboreal. They can easily climb small trees and vines. They have trouble climbing larger trees with smooth bark. They will often transfer from tree to tree by climbing from the branch of one tree to the branch of another. They prefer not to ascend and descend trees constantly. Their tail, although not prehensile, helps the coatis to balance during climbing activities. Coatis spend 90 percent of the daytime hours foraging and of that 90 percent 90 percent is spent on the ground. The coati is a strong swimmer, but normally does not voluntarily enter a water source. They can run up to 3 hours when being chased and have max speed of 27km/h.

White-nosed coatis are very vocal and have certain sounds to communicate aggression, pleasure, and alarm. Band members are usually more vocal than solitary adults. However, there are certain vocalizations which are only given by specific age groups or by sex classes. The vocalizations are combined with certain movements such as nose up, head down, and tail twitching.


Coati are not known for being shy. As such, they often have encounters with humans. This interaction is reinforcing for the Coatimundi as humans often feed them because of their cute, non-threatening looks.



Diet

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Enjoying a Stolen Meal
White-nosed coatis are omnivorous. They predominantly eat invertebrates and a variety of fruits, however, they occasionally consume small vertebrates and carrion or carcasses of dead animals when available. Life history events are timed to food availability. For example, in Panama, white-nosed coatis spend 89 percent of their time during the wet season in search of invertebrates. However, this figure drops to 54 percent during the dry season. The rest of the time is spent under fruiting trees. Although they have been known to chase toucans from the canopy in order to obtain fruit. As a member of the racoon family they have been known to steal food. The picture above shows a Coatimundi who has stolen a trash bag and is enjoying its contents. Fernando explained stories of Coatimundi stealing chocolate and sandwiches from the kitchen; typical raccoon-like behavior.


Food, generally, is found by smell rather than sight. Food is found by sniffing in leaf litter. Once it is located it is dug up and consumed. Live prey, usually invertebrates, are quickly rolled between their paws and killed in order to avoid painful/deadly stings and bites. The rolling also removes any distasteful hairs, spines, bristles, ect., which may make it difficult to eat. On the rare occasion the coatis hunt vertebrates they will immediately pin the catch between their paws and bite them through the skull. If the prey is large it takes several bites to kill. Fruits are eaten mainly on the ground, but they will also eat in trees. Long climbs are made in order to retrieve fruit. A band of coatis will restrict feeding to one well-fruiting tree for days until it is completely stripped of fruit.



Works Cited


Mora, J.M., Mendez, V.V., & Gomez, L.D. (1999). White-nosed coati Nasua narica as a potential pollinator of Ochroma pyramidale. Rev. Biol. Trop., 47(4), 719-721.

Valenzuela, D. . (1998). Natural history of the white-nosed coati, Nasua narica, in a tropical dry forest of Western Mexico. Revista Mexicana de Mastozoologia, 3, 26-44.

Gompper, M.E. (1995). Nasua narica. American Society of Mammalogists, 487, 1-10.