What is a Coati?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The coati is a relative of the raccoon, found mostly in Mexico, Central and South America. However, this animal is now frequently sighted in Texas and Arizona as well, having at some point crossed the border of Mexico. Since they are good at finding food, their introduction to the US may ultimately lead to coati populations throughout the US where climates are temperate.

The coati is found primarily in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
The coati is found primarily in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

There are several species: the ring-tailed, the white-nosed, and the island coati. An animal called the dwarf Mountain Coati derives from a different genus than the genus Nasua, which the three species belong to. The physical differences between the three recognized species are not significant.

Differences include lighter or darker coats, and marking on the tail and face. The white-nosed coati has the characteristic elongated black nose, but its muzzle is white, hence the term. Most often, US immigrant coatis are of the white nosed variety, which tends to most resemble the raccoon. Its coat is reddish, and is has a striped black tale.

The face and muzzle of the coati are easily distinguishable from the raccoon. The mouth and nose are much longer, and the tail is also considerably lengthier than the short bushy tale of a raccoon. They both, however, like to eat insects and fruit, and are good at solving problems. In terms of food, the coati prefers mostly insects as food, while the raccoon is known for raiding garbage cans and consuming small rodents.

Perhaps one of the reasons the coati has successfully transitioned to the US is the fact that they are primarily diurnal, doing most of their hunting and feeding during the day. The raccoon, conversely, is nocturnal. Thus the two species have little chance of colliding with each other.

The coati can vary in size depending on type, however adults tend to weigh about 16 pounds (7.26 kg). From tail to snout they measure approximately 4 feet (1.21 m). About half of that measurement is tail length. Body size is equivalent to a reasonably large house cat.

The female tends to live in groups of up to 30 members. Males are solitary, on the other hand, only entering the group for mating. Sexually mature females tend to breed once a year and have two to five offspring. A typical pregnancy lasts for about two months. The female will raise her young for the first two years. Female offspring typically join the group or band to which the mother belongs. Males are encouraged to leave.

In captivity, a coati can live for up to 15 years, but in the wild they tend to have a shorter life span. Typically, predators like the cougar, jaguar and panther view the them as prey. Though the animal can often be found on the ground rooting for insects, it tends to make nests in trees for itself and its young to avoid being seen by the large cats.

Coatis seem unafraid of humans, and some residents of South America keep them as pets. Like their raccoon cousins, they can never fully be considered tame, and it is really best to leave them in their natural environment. A wild coati should never be approached, as like the raccoon, they can be unpredictable, their bite is sharp, and they are vulnerable to rabies.

While both the ring-tailed and white nosed coati are faring well despite encroachments on their habitats, the island coati, living exclusively on Cozumel, an island off the coast of Mexico, is classified as endangered. In island populations, animals that lose their habitat have nowhere else to go. This has led to a significant decline in numbers. The World Wildlife Foundation is currently working on creating a protected area for the island population, so its numbers can be restored.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I stumbled across a Coati not knowing what it was. As soon as I got to the hotel, I looked it up. Thanks to wiseGEEK, I know what it is.


In Mazatlan Mexico I ran across a ring-tailed coati, not knowing what it was, I was rather nervous only being approximately 10 feet from it.

He looked up at me and then continued about his business as if I was not even there. Thank heaven.

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