Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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)


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)


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


  • 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 Wildlife Alliance. 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)

SDZWA Library Links