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White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Daytime activity

  • Diurnal; particularly active in morning and evening (e.g., Leopold 1959; Pérez-Irineo and Santos-Moreno 2016)
    • Most time spent foraging (Kaufmann 1962; Russell 1982)
      • 90% of daytime hours
  • May rest for up to several hours during the day (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Usually groom at start and end of rest periods

Nighttime activity

  • Sleep in trees, rocky ledges, or dens (Gompper 1995)
    • Put tails or paws over faces (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Juveniles positioned at center of group for protection (Kaufmann 1962; Kaufmann et al. 1976; Russell 1979)
  • May be active at night (Kaufmann 1962; Smythe 1970; Valenzuela and Ceballos 2000, except as noted)
    • Solitary males more active after dusk than coati groups
    • May be more nocturnal during mating season (B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
    • Coatis in human-populated areas might be more nocturnal (Kaufmann 1983)
      • Where heavily hunted, shift activity to nighttime hours
      • Further research needed

Movements and Dispersal

Home range size

  • Varies widely by region and season (e.g., Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1997; Valenzuela and Macdonald 2002)
    • Larger in northern latitudes than tropical latitudes (Gompper 1995)
      • Resources sparser in arid and temperate regions than tropics
    • Larger during dry season when water and food resources less abundant (Valenzuela and Ceballos 2000; Valenzuela and Macdonald 2002; McColgin et al. 2018)
    • For females, smallest during nesting season (Russell 1982)
  • Home ranges of solitary males and groups of similar size (e.g., Valenzuela and Ceballos 2000)

Home range areas

  • Variable; may vary from season to season, remain stable across years or shift from year to year (not return to previous home range area) (Haas 2002; McColgin et al. 2018; B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
    • May be more stable in tropical regions than temperate/arid ones
    • Return to previously used areas a few months to a year later
  • Considerable overlap in home ranges of groups (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Substantial home range overlap within and between sexes (except pregnant females) (Ratnayeke et al. 1994; Haas 2002)
    • Adult males inhabiting the home range of a group may be closely related to group members (Gompper et al. 1998)
      • More research needed (Peter Waser, personal communication, 2019)


  • Females typically remain with natal group (Gompper et al. 1998)
    • Long-distance dispersal patterns not well studied (Peter Waser, personal communication, 2019)
  • Males disperse from natal group at about 2 years old but do not simultaneously leave natal habitat (Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1997; Gompper et al. 1998; McColgin et al. 2018)
    • May occasionally live with other young males for several months after dispersal (Gompper and Krinsley 1992) but interactions between adult males typically antagonistic (fighting/avoidance) (Hirsch and Gompper 2017)

Social Behavior

Social structure

  • Unique social structure among members of Order Carnivora (Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1997)
  • Matrilineal groups (Hirsch 2007)
    • Mainly comprised of related females and their offspring (Kaufmann 1983; Gompper 1996; Gompper et al. 1997; Gompper et al. 1998; Kays 2009b; Hirsch et al. 2012)
      • Mother–offspring relationships particularly important
      • Groups may also contain some unrelated individuals
        • Non-relatives receive more aggression and less group support
  • Typical group size 4 to 26 individuals (Kays 2009b; Hirsch and Gompper 2017)
  • Large groups split into smaller subgroups for foraging (Gompper 1997; McColgin et al. 2018)
    • Individuals may get few or no fruits, if foraging in a large group (Hirsch and Gompper 2017)
  • Adult males generally solitary, except during short mating season (about 2 to 4 weeks) (also see Courtship) (Kaufmann 1962; Hirsch and Gompper 2017; McColgin et al. 2018)
    • Possible causes of sex segregation
      • Competition for food
      • Different risks of predation between males and females
  • Pregnant females leave groups for as much as 2 months during pregnancy and lactation (Kaufmann 1962; Russell 1982; Ratnayeke et al. 1994)
    • Rejoin social group after nesting period
  • Interactions between adult males typically antagonistic (fighting/avoidance) (Hirsch and Gompper 2017)
  • New groups may form by groups splitting or merging (Gompper 1995; McColgin et al. 2018)
    • Migration of individuals between groups also occurs

Dominance hierarchies

  • Linear hierarchy (e.g., Kaufmann 1962; de la O et al. 2019)
    • Most stable at high and low ranks (Kaufmann 1962; de la O et al. 2019)
      • Individuals of middle status change rank more often
  • Likely influenced by stages of reproductive season: mating, gestation, and nesting (de la O et al. 2019)
  • In studies of ring-tailed coatis (Nasua nasua), juveniles subordinate to adult females (e.g., Hirsch 2010a)
    • Still to be studied in white-nosed coatis, but likely similar
  • Coalition membership often increases dominance status (de la O et al. 2019)
  • Social structure influences foraging success (Gompper 1996)
    • Larger groups of females can displace solitary males
    • Larger males can displace solitary females and small groups
  • Also see Hirsch (2007) for information on dominance interactions observed in Nasua nasua

Inter-group interactions

  • Aggression towards other groups appears to be infrequent; further study at high population densities needed (Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1995; de la O et al. 2019)
    • Give grunts and exhibit nose-up posture during interactions
  • In Nasua nasua, adult females defend juveniles who were not their offspring against other groups (Hirsch et al. 2012)
  • Groups affiliate with each other for grooming (Kaufmann 1962; Russell 1979)

Nest Building


  • Nests built at various times of year (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Usually less than 1 m (3 ft) in diameter (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Constructed in tops of trees or where tree trunks branch (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Coati builds nest by bending branches towards nest site or biting off small branches (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Pregnant females gather fronds from trees adjacent to nest site


Vocalizations (non-comprehensive)*

*Under review by E. Grout, C. Hass, and B. Hirsch (March 2021)

  • Most common calls are chirps (high frequency) and squawks (low frequency) (Kays 2009b)
  • Contact calls (Smith 1977; Maurello et al. 2000; Compton et al. 2001)
    • Chitter call commonly given (Krinsley 1989)
      • Produced during social grooming (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Short high-pitched chirps given while group is moving locations
      • Includes ultrasonic frequencies (possibly to prevent detection by predators)
    • Grunts (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Chuckling
      • Mostly given when group members approach each other and during mutual grooming interactions (Kaufmann 1962)
        • Also after period of group member separation (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Chop-chop
      • Given during encounters between adult males (Kaufmann 1962), or males and females (Smith 1977)
        • May be part of agnostic display or given when an individual is hesitant to approach another
  • Alarm and aggressive calls
    • Loud chitters and chatters (Smith 1977; Krinsley 1989; Compton et al. 2001)
    • Squeals (Smith 1977; Krinsley 1989)
    • Squawks (Compton et al. 2001)
    • Grunts (Kaufmann 1962; Krinsley 1989)
    • Growls (Smith 1977; Krinsley 1989)
  • Male courtship calls
    • To human ear, similar to alarm calls but repeated for many minutes (Booth-Binczik et al. 2004a)
  • Young able to produce most vocal patterns of adults but seldom produce them (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Audio clips

Visual communication

  • Nose up: snout turned up and lips curled to expose teeth; mouth usually open (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Exhibited during agonistic interactions, and less commonly, play (Smith 1977; Krinsley 1989)
    • Accompanied by chittering or squealing vocalizations (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Head-down: head pointed down at ground (Kaufmann 1962; Smith 1977)
    • Appears to be a submissive (appeasement) posture given to dominant individuals or when males interact with breeding females (Krinsley 1989)
  • Tail switching: tail whipped back and forth, parallel to ground (Krinsley 1989)
    • May be an alarm reaction or signal (Kaufmann 1962; Smith 1980)

Tactile communication

  • Gentle contact common (Smith 1977)
    • Nuzzling
    • Inhibited biting
    • In physical contact while resting
  • Individuals commonly groom themselves and other group members (e.g., Kaufmann 1962; Smith 1977; Krinsley 1989)
    • Use front teeth and claws to comb and nibble fur and skin
    • Body areas most often groomed include head, neck, shoulders, belly, and genital areas
  • Reports of coatis using tree resin for grooming fur (Gompper and Hoylman 1993) and soap (stolen from humans) for washing base of tail (B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)

Smell and scent marking

  • Scent mark by wiping urine secretions onto trees, logs, and vines with groin or abdomen (Krinsley 1989; Gompper 1995)
  • Most common in encounters between 2 males (Kaufmann 1962), but both sexes scent mark (Russell 1982; Gompper 1995)
  • Perineal sniffing mainly during breeding (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Likely role in assessing when females are receptive

Agonistic Behavior and Defense


  • Intra-group fighting occurs mainly when competing for food or water (Burger 2001)
  • Behavioral conflicts typically short in duration (Kaufman 1962; de la O et al. 2019)
  • Most escalated fights between males during breeding (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Can result in severe wounding or tooth damage
  • Females join together to exclude males from their group outside of breeding (Kaufmann 1962; Russell 1981; Gompper 1996)
    • Aids females in defending food sources (against males larger in body size) (Gompper 1996; Hirsch and Gompper 2017)
  • Females aid juveniles in conflicts with subadults, even if unrelated (Nasua nasua) (Hirsch et al. 2012)
  • Females show more aggression to unrelated members in their group (Gompper et al. 1997)
  • Social tolerance may be reduced in places where tourists feed coatis (de la O et al. 2019)


  • In the wild, flee on the ground or escape into trees to escape predators/other threats (Leopold 1959; B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
  • In managed care, freeze or flee to higher ground when alarmed (Krinsley 1989)

Other Behaviors


  • Predominantly “play fighting”: sparring and wrestling (Kaufmann 1962; Smith 1977; Logan and Longino 2013)
    • Biting, rolling, chasing, tackling, kicking, crouching, jumping
  • Observed between juveniles, and between juveniles and adult males (Logan and Longino 2013)


Object carrying

  • Carry small objects (e.g., food, sticks, leaves) in mouth (Krinsley 1989)
  • Flex paw to scoop up object and lift it to mouth (Krinsley 1989)


  • Small young wrestle frequently (Kaufmann 1962)
    • Grasp each other with forepaws, and bite and kick each other (but do not cause injury) (Krinsley 1989)

Ecological Role

Role in food chains

  • Mid-level omnivore (Gómez-Ortiz et al. 2015)

Seed dispersal

  • Disperse seeds of many trees by eating fruit (Wright et al. 2000; Wright and Duber 2001; Alves-Costa and Eterovick 2007)
    • Seeds moved far from parent plant
      • Promotes gene flow of plants, particularly in fragmented forest habitat

Possible pollinator

  • Mora et al. (1999) report that coatis visit flowers of balsa tree, Ochroma pyramidale
    • Propose that coatis transport pollen on facial hair and pollinate flowers

Interspecies Interactions


  • May compete with white-faced capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus) (Gompper 1995)
  • Sometimes initiate contact with monkeys (Havmøller et al., in revision)

Small mammals

  • Coatis may compete for food with other small mammals (e.g., agoutis, armadillos, squirrels) (Kaufmann 1962)


  • Association between White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis) and white-nosed coati observed by Booth-Binczik et al. (2004) in Tikal National Park, Guatemala
    • Hawks kept pace with coati groups and perched in trees, near or directly above coatis
    • Hawks may feed on prey flushed by foraging coatis


  • Some dung beetles depend on coati feces for food and breeding (Estrada et al. 1993)
    • Beetle populations impacted where coatis extirpated due to deforestation


  • On Barro Colorado Island, Panama, coatis formerly observed to eat ticks from skin of Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) (Overall 1980; McClearn 1992b; Sazima 2010)
    • Rare relationship in which a mammal cleans another mammal species
    • Interaction appears to have only lasted from 1970s to 1990s


  • Coatis not liked by some farmers; coatis may damage crops (Leopold 1959; López-del-Toro et al. 2009)
  • Coatis can habituate to humans—become a nuisance or show aggression (Risser 1963; Van Hulle and Vaughan 2009; Sazima 2010)
    • Forage for food at garbage dumps
    • Beg for food from humans
      • Can cause serious injury if become accustomed to feeding by tourists (B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
  • Adult male coatis observed to defend themselves from hunting dogs (B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
    • Some hunters shoot male coatis to prevent injury to their dogs
  • Considered “inquisitive and lovable animals” by most tourists (Sazima 2010)
  • Also see Cultural History



  • Spend most time on the ground (Kaufmann 1962; McClearn 1992a; Cuarón et al. 2015)
  • Walking always quadrupedal (Maurello et al. 2000)
    • Body supported by 3 legs at slow speed (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Rear body elevated higher than forebody when relaxed (Maurello et al. 2000)
  • Can stand bipedally for short periods (Maurello et al. 2000)


  • Gallop for short distances (e.g., when startled or chased by another coati) (McClearn 1992a)
    • May run up to 17 mph (27 kph) (Kaufmann 1962)
  • Demonstrate endurance when pursued by predators (Goodwin 1934; Gompper 1995)


  • Easily climb trees and vines (Gompper 1995; B. Hirsch, personal communication, 2021)
    • Have more difficulty climbing/descending large trees with smooth trunks (Ingles 1957; McClearn 1992a; Gompper 1995)
  • To climb larger trees, encircle trunk with forefeet and press against trunk with hindfeet (McClearn 1992a)
  • Reach fruits in very large trees by climbing woody vines or smaller trees nearby, and moving horizontally through tree canopy (Ingles 1957; McClearn 1992a)
    • Prefer to jump no more than 1 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 ft) horizontally but can jump farther, when pressed (Kaufmann 1962; Krinsley 1989)
  • Descend trees headfirst (Kaufmann 1962; Kaufmann 1983; McClearn 1992a)
    • Hindfeet usually rotated backward
  • Tail used for balance (McClearn 1992a; Gompper 1995)


  • Strong swimming ability, though do not typically enter water (Enders 1935; Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1995)
    • Snout protrudes from water, like a snorkel

Unusual Social Structure

Band of white-nosed coatis

Female white-nosed coatis live in matrilineal groups with their young. Males are generally solitary.

This social structure confused early naturalists, who mistakenly named female and male coatis as separate species.

Image credit: © pedrik / Flickr. Some rights reserved; CC BY-NC 2.0.

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