Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 16 to 22 inches (42 to 57 centimeters)
Tail length: 15 to 22 inches (40 to 57 centimeters)
Weight: 4 to 7 pounds. (2 to 3 kilograms)
Life span: 20 to 25 years, although one at the Belize Zoo lived 39 years
Gestation: 112 to 118 days
Number of young at birth: 1 to 2
Weight at birth: 2 ounces (55 grams)
Age of maturity: 18 to 20 months
Conservation status: lower risk
A kinkajou's hearing is sharp enough to detect the movement of a snake.
• A 5-inch-long (13 centimeters) tongue helps kinkajous slurp up as much nectar and honey as they can find.
• Kinkajous are able to turn their feet in the opposite direction and run backward just as quickly as they run forward. This also makes it easy for them to climb up and down trees headfirst.
• In Belize, kinkajous are called "night walkers."
The kinkajou (pronounced KINK ah joo) is a mammal found in tropical rain forests from southern Mexico to Brazil. The scientific name for the kinkajou, Potos flavos, translates to “golden drinker” because the animal has thick, golden fur and often drinks nectar from large balsa flowers. Kinkajous are considered an important pollinator because they go from flower to flower drinking nectar and the pollen sticks to their face and then smears off at the next flower. The name kinkajou comes from a word in the local language that means “honey bear,” as these slender animals have been seen raiding beehives for the golden liquid. Kinkajous have quite a sweet tooth!
Although kinkajous are carnivores (they have canine teeth), most of their diet is fruit. On rare occasions they eat eggs, hatchlings, insects, and small vertebrates. The kinkajou at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is fed dog chow, yams, and carrots; special treats include corn kernels and bananas.
Who are you calling a monkey?
Looking a bit like a monkey, kinkajous are often mistakenly called primates. They do have many traits and features similar to that of primates. However, kinkajous belong to the family Procyonidae, which includes raccoons. Kinkajous and binturongs are the only two carnivores that have a prehensile tail. The tail is used for balance, to hold on to branches while reaching for food, and even to snuggle with while sleeping. This tail acts like a fifth limb and is almost as long as the kinkajou's body. Kinkajous can hang by the tip of their strong tail, then turn their body in such a way that they can climb back up their own tail! They are very deliberate in their every movement, carefully placing all five limbs for maximum balance. Their slightly webbed paws are very nimble, and by rotating their hind ankles, kinkajous can descend from a tree headfirst. This helps kinkajous make a quick escape when in danger from larger predators such as jaguars, ocelots, and margays.
Secretive creatures of the canopy
Kinkajous are arboreal and nocturnal, making them difficult to watch and study. They rarely come down from the branches high in the rain forest canopy. During the day, they find hollows in the trees to sleep in, only coming out at dusk to find food. Kinkajous are very vocal animals and can be heard screeching and barking all around the forest, earning them yet another nickname, la llorona, Spanish for “the crying woman."
Leaving its mark
Each kinkajou has a home range and usually travels the same route each night. Scent glands at the corner of the mouth, the throat, and the abdomen help the animal mark its territory. Kinkajous are mostly solitary creatures, but they have often been observed playing, grooming, and sometimes sleeping together in small groups
Because of their solitary nature, an adult female kinkajou takes full responsibility for caring for her young. She gives birth to one baby (two are rare) in the hollow of a tree. After one or two weeks the baby's eyes open and it begins to eat solid food. By the time it is seven weeks old, the youngster can hang by its tail.
Not the Hollywood type
Although kinkajous are not an endangered species, poachers hunting them for fur and meat or for the exotic pet trade are threatening their numbers. Because they are wild animals, they do not make good pets, no matter how cute you might think they are! Kinkajous have a painful bite and can be very destructive to a home in the middle of the night, when they are most active.