Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Kinkajou (Potos flavus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Nocturnal (Julien-Laferriere 1993; Kays and Gittleman 2001; Zeveloff 2002)

  • Sleep in daylight
    • Sleep in hollow trees, niches formed by branches and vines, or in the fronds of palm trees (Figueroa and Arita 2013; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
      • Several individuals may share the same den site (Kays and Gittleman 2001)

Daily activity patterns (from Julien-Laferriere 1993 unless otherwise noted)

  • Onset of activity
    • Begin activity shortly after sunset
  • Travel and forage c. 8-11 hours per night
    • Move about much of the time
    • Interrupt travel to feed
    • Brief periods of rest (the animal is neither feeding or moving) tend to occur in the middle of the night (23:00-02:00), though a more evenly distributed pattern may also occur
  • Seek out sleeping spots (dens) prior to dawn
    • Most commonly sleep in tree holes or large palm trees (R Kays personal communication)
    • Sleep with legs tucked and tail curled around the body, over the head (Poglayen-Neuwall 1962)
    • In warm weather, lie on the back or side; limbs and tail extended (Poglayen-Neuwall 1962)

Home Range

Range Features

  • Ranges often overlap  (Kays and Gittleman 1995; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
    • Portions of a female's range are often shared with one or more males
  • Home range size (from Kays and Gittleman 2001 unless otherwise noted)
    • c. 0.05-0.53 km2 (0.02-0.20 mi2) (Julien-Laferriere 1993; Kays and Gittleman 1995; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
      • Similar between sexes and age classes
      • Juvenile ranges typically center within their mother’s home range

Social Groups

Solitary, most often (from Kays and Gittleman 2001)

  • Exhibit a degree of social, group life
    • Regularly interact with conspecifics (other kinkajous)
      • Consolidate at daytime dens and large fruiting trees
      • Share overlapping home ranges
      • Avoid ranges used by other groups
    • Members within associations are often consistent
    • Associations typically while feeding or denning
    • Rarely travel together
  • Group composition
    • 1 female, 2 males, and 1-2 juveniles or sub-adults; typical makeup

Territorial Behavior

Territorial boundaries strictly observed (from Kays 2009; Kays and Gittleman 1995)

  • Neighboring groups remain within separate home ranges

Inter-group interactions (from Kays 2009; Kays and Gittleman 1995)

  • Aggressive interactions rare
  • Neighboring females chase one another
    • Tree-top pursuits often end with the subordinate animal jumping to the ground to flee

Social Interactions

Aggression (from Kays and Gittleman 2001 unless otherwise noted)

  • Forms of aggression
    • Scream, chase, and hit one another
  • Threat behavior
    • Forcefully shake branches to threaten another

Affiliative behaviors (from Kays and Gittleman 2001 unless otherwise noted)

  • Allo-grooming (one individual grooms another)
    • Bidirectional grooming is most common, though unidirectional grooming occurs
      • Partners will exchange grooming or simultaneously groom one another
    • Nature of grooming
      • Individuals lick and bite to comb their partner’s fur (Poglayen-Neuwall 1962)
      • One animal lies on the back of the other to clean its partner’s ears, head, and back of the neck (Kays and Gittleman 1995; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
    • Participants
      • Most frequently observed between members of the same social group
      • Both sexes take part (Kays and Gittleman 1995; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
    • Location of events
      • Large, fruiting trees often serve as a site for grooming
      • Also near smaller fruiting trees and den sites
    • Duration
      • Typically for c. 6-7 minutes
      • Longest bout lasting 28 minutes, one study

Play (from Kays and Gittleman 2001 unless otherwise noted)

  • Participants
    • Juveniles and sub-adults; adult males may join
  • Forms of play
    • Chase one another through the forest canopy
    • Play-boxing
      • Hang (upside-down) by the tails and strike out with the hands (Kays 2009)

Communication

Vocalization (from Poglayen-Neuwall 1962 unless otherwise noted)

  • Produce brief but regular calls (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
  • Wide call repertoire
    • Snort-weedle (or “puff and bark”) (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
      • Two-part call; one quick snort sound followed by a variable number of weedle vocalizations (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
        • Long-range call (Kays 2009)
        • Produced by adult and sub-adult males and females (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
        • Meaning unclear; possibly having multiple meanings (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
        • May be repeated for long periods; maximum of 15 minutes in one study (Kays and Gittleman 2001)
    • Twitter
      • Infantile sound; possibly indicating pleasure or begging
      • Shrill and ending in a high intensity whistle
    • Bark
      • Short, hoarse sound
      • Contact call
    • Chirp
      • Soothing sound emitted by mothers
    • Spit
      • Given in warning or during fights
    • Hiss
      • Emitted when startled or alarmed
    • Scream (Ford and Hoffmann 1988; Poglayen-Neuwall 1962)
      • Given when under threat
      • Often heard immediately prior to a biting attack

Olfaction/Scent Marking (from Kays and Gittleman 2001 unless otherwise noted)

  • Scent glands
    • Found on the chest and belly region; lack anal glands (Zeveloff 2002)
    • Smell described as pleasant, sweet, and musky (de la Rosa and Nocke 2000)
  • Marking by both males and females  (Kays and Gittleman 1995; Kays and Gittleman 2001)
    • Rub the jaw-line, throat, or abdomen on branches
      • Tail often wraps around a branch for support
    • At times, roll the back onto the branch
      • Possibly to add further scent or to anoint the animal’s back with the deposited scent
    • Extended marking common; may last for 15 minutes (Kays and Gittleman 1995)

Locomotion

Within the forest canopy (from McClearn 1992 unless otherwise noted)

  • Jump
    • Spring from one limb or tree to another (Figueroa and Arita 2013)
    • Backbone capable of rotating 180o from the hip to the neck (Figueroa and Arita 2013; McClearn 1992)
  • Climb
    • Adept, yet deliberate
      • Descend headfirst (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)
    • Travel along horizontal branches by walking on the top surface or hanging suspended below
      • May twist the body around the branch
    • Prehensile tail helps to secure and balance the body when crossing gaps between supports
      • Hindfeet and tail hold the old support as the forefeet secure a grip on the new support

Along the ground (from McClearn 1992)

  • Walk
    • Quadrupedally with a crouched body posture
    • Tail held off the ground in a loose curl
    • Described by one author as graceful and “feline”

Interspecies Interactions

Predators

  • Mammalian predators
    • Felines (cats)
      • Jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Puma concolor), and ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) (Figueroa and Arita 2013; Kays 2009)
    • Humans
      • Hunt kinkajou for food; by some in Surinam and by the Lacandons in Chiapas, Mexico (March 1987; Robinson and Redford 1991)
      • Traffick furs (pelts); especially in South America (Figueroa and Arita 2013)
      • Capture for the pet trade (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)
  • Avian predators
    • Harpy (Harpia harpyja) and Isidor’s Eagles (Oroaetus isidora) (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)
  • Diurnal hunters likely capture sleeping kinkajous (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)

Symbiotic relationships

  • Seed dispersal (from Figueroa and Arita 2013; Kays 1999)
    • Kinkajous consume seeds of fruiting trees and deposit them in droppings around the forest
    • Digestive tract does not damage seeds
    • Ficus (figs), Virola, and Luga fruit often consumed and their seeds found in droppings
  • Pollinations (from Kays 1999 unless otherwise noted)
    • Pollen from flowers (e.g. Ochroma pyramidale, Pseudobombax septenatum, and Tetrathylacium johnansenii) collects on the kinkajous’ nose when it takes nectar (Kays 1999; Kays et al. 2012)
      • Balsa trees (O. pyramidale) rely on kinkajous for short distance dispersal of pollen (Kays et al. 2012)
        • Kinkajou spend more time feeding from balsa tree flowers than any other pollinator (Kays et al. 2012)
        • One preliminary study suggests that kinkajou are better pollinators of balsa trees than bats (Kays et al. 2012)
    • Cross-pollination occurs as the kinkajou moves to take nectar from other flowers
  • Parasitic interactions
    • Ectoparasites
      • Lice and ticks (Figueroa and Arita 2013)
        • Trichodectes potus, a louse (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)
        • Amblyomma sp, a tick (Ford and Hoffmann 1988)
      • Protozoans
        • Leishmania brasiliensis occasionally results in skin infections (Figueroa and Arita 2013)

Solitary but Social

a Kinkajou in a tree

The nocturnal kinkajou spends most of the night alone, traveling and eating. A female may share portions of her territory with one or more males. Individuals may congregate near denning sites and have been known to engage in mutual, social grooming.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

de la Rosa and Nocke (2000)
Figuerosa et al. (2013)
Ford and Hoffman (1988)
Julien-Laferrier (1993)
Kays (1999)
Kays (2009)
Kays and Gittleman (1995)
Kays and Gittleman (2001)
Kays et al. (2012)
March (1987)
McClearn (1992)
Poglayen-Neuwall (1962)
Robinson and Redford (1991)
Zeveloff (2002)

SDZG Library Links