The kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the honey bear, like the Sun Bear, is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to the olingo, ringtail, cacomistle, raccoon, and coati. It is the only member of the genus Potos. Native to Central America and South America, this arboreal mammal is not very rare, though it is seldom seen by people because of its strict nocturnal habits. Most of its life is spent in trees. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not related.
An average adult kinkajou weighs 2–3 kg (4–7 lb). Average adult body length is 17–22 inches; in addition to body length, average tail length is 16–22 inches. The kinkajou’s wooly fur consists of an outer coat of gold (or brownish-gray) overlapping a gray undercoat.
Although the kinkajou is classified in the order Carnivora and has sharp teeth, its omnivorous diet consists mainly of fruit. Kinkajous enjoy figs and have been known to eat some bird eggs, as well as larger insects, particularly ants. However, studies have shown that their diet consists primarily of ripe fruit (90% of diet), with leaves and flowers making up the other 10%.
The kinkajou’s slender five-inch extrudable tongue helps the animal to obtain fruit and to lick nectar from flowers, so that it sometimes acts as a pollinator. (Nectar is also sometimes obtained by eating entire flowers.) Although captive specimens will avidly eat honey (hence the name “Honey Bear”), honey has not yet been observed in the diet of wild kinkajous.
Olingos are similar to kinkajous in morphology and habits. However, genetic studies have shown that the kinkajous were an early offshoot of the ancestral procyonid line and are not closely related to any of the other extant procyonids. The similarities between kinkajous and olingos are thus an example of parallel evolution; the closest relatives of the olingos are actually the coatis. The kinkajou is distinguished from the olingo by its prehensile tail, its foreshortened muzzle, its extrudable tongue, and its lack of anal scent glands.
Like raccoons, kinkajous’ remarkable manipulatory abilities rival those of primates. The kinkajou’s short-haired, fully prehensile tail (like some New World monkeys), is used as a “fifth hand” in climbing. It does not use its tail for grasping food.
This incredible tail helps the kinkajou hang, balance and also covers them very much like a warm blanket while they are sleeping very high up in what is called the canopy part of the tree tops.
Apart from its tail, the Kinkajou has another quite interesting adaptation – some very strange feet that can do things that might shock you if you saw it. The animal can turn its feet backwards, to run quite easily in either direction up a branch or up and down a tree trunk.
Scent glands near the mouth, on the throat, and on the belly allow kinkajous to mark their territory and their travel routes. Kinkajous sleep in family units and groom one another. While they are usually solitary when foraging, they occasionally forage in small groups, and sometimes associate with olingos.
A nocturnal animal, the kinkajou’s peak activity is usually between about 7:00 PM and midnight, and again an hour before dawn. During daylight hours, kinkajous sleep in tree hollows or in shaded tangles of leaves, avoiding direct sunlight.
Kinkajous communicate with a variety of vocalizations. Because their loudest call is shrill and resembles a woman’s scream, one Spanish folk name for the kinkajou is “la llorona” (“the weeping woman”). Kinkajous have excellent senses of touch and smell, but poor vision: they cannot differentiate colours.
Kinkajous breed throughout the year, giving birth to one or occasionally two small babies after a gestation period of 112 to 118 days.
Their babies are born with their eyes closed and are blind for over a month, but they grow and develop so fast that by the end of the second month, they can hang from their own tail upside down.
Kinkajous are sometimes kept as pets. They are playful, generally quiet and docile, and have no noticeable odour. However, they can occasionally be aggressive. Kinkajous dislike being awake during the day, and dislike noise and sudden movements. An agitated kinkajou may emit a scream and attack, usually clawing its victim and biting deeply.
In El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras pet kinkajous are commonly called micoleón, meaning “lion monkey”.
They live an average of about 23 years in captivity, with a maximum recorded life span of over 55 years.
(Source: Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia)
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