Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomy and Nomenclature


  • White-nosed coati currently recognized as 1 species and 4 subspecies (Kays 2009a)
  • Other species of coati:
    • Ring-tailed (South American) coati (Nasua nasua) (Hirsch and Gompper 2017)
    • Mountain coatis (Nasuella spp.) (Hirsch and Gompper 2017)


  • Genus Nasua
    • From the Latin word for “nose” (Kays 2009a)


  • Viverra narica (Kays 2009b; Cuarón et al. 2015)
  • Viverra nasua (Gompper 1995)
  • Nasua nelsoni (Gompper 1995)
  • Nasua thersites (Gompper 1995)
  • Nasua subfusca (Gompper 1995)

Common names

  • “Coati”
    • Originates from Tupian languages of South America (Gompper 1995)
      • Refers to coati’s sleeping posture: nose tucked into belly
  • “Coati-mundi” refers specifically to solitary male coatis (Kaufmann 1983)
    • Early researchers confused by coati social structure (Kaufmann 1962; Gompper 1995)
      • Defined species names based on behavioral (rather than morphological) differences
        • “Solitary” = Nasua solitaria (referred to solitary adult males)
        • “Sociable” = N. sociabilis (referred to groups comprised of females and juveniles)
      • Similar incorrect names persist in North and South America today
  • Names by language
    • White-nosed coati, coatimundi (English) (Cuarón et al. 2015)
    • Coati à nez blanc (French) (Kays 2009b)
    • Weißrüssel-Nasenbär (German)
    • Coati pizote or pisote, cozumbo, tejón, choluga (Leopold 1959; Cuarón et al. 2015); coati (López-del-Toro et al. 2009) (Spanish)

Evolutionary History

Fossil history and evolutionary relationships

  • Coatis closely related to olingos, raccoons, and ringtails (Koepfli et al. 2007)
    • Coatis and olingos diverged approximately 12 mya (Koepfli et al. 2007)
  • Most recent coati common ancestor from South or Central America (Nigenda-Morales et al. 2019)
    • Genetic evidence suggests coatis migrated from South America to North America
      • Not north to south, as suggested by fossil record
  • Nasua species diversified in South America (Nigenda-Morales et al. 2019)
  • Nasua narica and N. nasua diverged approximately 7 to 8 mya (Koepfli et al. 2007)

Closest living relatives

(Koepfli et al. 2007; Helgen et al. 2009; Koepfli et al. 2017)

  • Eastern mountain coati, Nasuella meridensis
  • Western mountain coati, Nasuella olivacea
  • South American (ring-tailed) coati, Nasua nasua

Cultural History

Culture and folklore

  • Hunting and culture
    • Coatis important food animals for early subsistence hunters in Mexico (e.g., Hamblin 1984; Redford and Robinson 1991)
      • Hunting rituals performed to appease supernatural animal guardians and bring about species regeneration
    • Similar beliefs in greater Mesoamerica area (Redford and Robinson 1991)
    • Coati bones found at Mayan hunting shrines in Guatemalan Highlands (Brown 2005)
  • Traditional Medicine
    • Mexico
      • Market for skins (Aranda 1991)
      • Coati fat used to treat skin infections, pimples, muscle aches, and epilepsy (Avila-Najera et al. 2011)
    • Latin America
      • Coati penis used to treat male impotence (see Alves and Alves 2011, p. 31) (Almeida et al. 2005, as cited by Alves and Alves 2011)
    • South American (ring-tailed) coati used for many purposes (see references in Alves and Alves 2011, p. 30)



  • John Updike references the white-nosed coati in “Pura Vida” (2000)

Television and film

  • Documentaries
    • Land of the Coati-Mundi” — Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom
      • Features white-nosed coatis living in Arizona
      • Footage of foraging, climbing, behavior of young, and interactions with other desert animals



Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Procyonidae (Gray, 1825) — coatis, olingos, raccoons, kinkajou, ringtails

Genus: Nasua (Storr, 1780) — coatis

Species: Nasua narica (Linnaeus, 1766) — white-nosed coati

Subspecies: Nasua narica narica (Linnaeus, 1766) — southern Mexico, Central America, and north and west Colombia
Subspecies: Nasua narica molaris (Merriam, 1902) — Mexico and southwest U.S.
Subspecies: Nasua narica nelsoni (Merriam, 1901) (a.k.a. “dwarf coati”) — Mexico (Cozumel Island)
Subspecies: Nasua narica yucatanica (J. A. Allen, 1904) — Mexico (Yucatán Peninsula)

Sources: Kays (2009a), Koepfli et al. (2017), ITIS (2019)

Early Illustration

1885 illustration of coatis in tree

Illustration of coatis from Animate Creation (1885).

The two coatis in the background exhibit agonistic behavior; the coati in foreground sniffs along a branch.

Image credit: Wood JG. 1885. Animate Creation: a Popular Edition of "Our Living World," a Natural History. Vol. 1. New York (NY): Selmar Hess; p. 332. Made available by Biodiversity Heritage Library. Public domain.

SDZWA Library Links