The Coatimundi Is Cute But Doesn't Make a Good Pet

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
coati
The South American coati, aka the ring-tailed coati (Nasua nasua), is widespread in tropical and subtropical South America, with most of its distribution occurring in the lowlands east of the Andes Mountains. Jon G. Fuller, Jr./VW PICS/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

There are lots of cute animals out there that you probably want to hug, or even keep as a pet. The coatimundi, also called the coati, is one of these animals — so adorable! Definitely not pet material, though. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but the main reason is that they're real busybodies, and not stupid at all.

Coatis are extremely social mammals native to Central and South America, and belong to the same family as raccoons and kinkajous. The females are about the size of a housecat, though the males can be almost twice as big, and they have thick, luxurious fur and long, upturned snouts. Their tails are long and stick straight up in the air, so even if you can't see the coati's low-slung body moving through the grass, you might get a peek at the tip of its tail poking up. They're active during the day, spending their time hunting for food and maintaining their territories.

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The name coati is not actually short for coatimundi — "coati" comes from a native language from Brazil meaning "belt nose," due to their habit of sleeping with their noses tucked into their bellies.

Adult males are solitary, while adult females and their young form large bands. Biologists originally described the larger, lone males as a separate species because their bodies and habits appeared so different from those of the females.

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Coatis Are Opportunistic Eaters

The best word to describe a coati's diet is opportunistic. They're considered meat-eating insectivores, feasting mainly on beetles, termites and grubs, but they definitely won't turn up their snouts at fruit, small vertebrates like frogs, lizards and mice, and even dead animals they find on the ground.

"Their diet can change throughout their life, so while juveniles plump up on invertebrates and fruit, adults might indulge on vertebrates," says Marco Wendt, wildlife ambassador at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. "In our care, coatis receive an assortment of fruit, meat, vegetables and grubs. In the wild, male coatis forage alone which makes them more likely to catch lizards and rodents. Females foraging in bands use their powerful olfactory senses."

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coati
The white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) has powerful forelegs and can easily climb trees to reach fruit or flowers for food, but spends most of the day foraging on the ground for worms, spiders and other invertebrates.
Georg Wendt/picture alliance/Getty Images

Do Coatimundis Make Good Pets?

When it comes to the family Procyonidae, a female coati would probably be the worst choice for a household pet. This is because they're extremely smart, and when it comes to wild animals, smarts is not necessarily what you want in a housemate. The reason female coatis are so brainy is because they're very social. A 2013 study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution compared brain size of male and female raccoons, kinkajous and coatis — all members of the Procyonid family. Female coatis, because they live in social groups, were found to have substantially larger frontal cortical volume compared to both raccoons and kinkajous and their own male counterparts due to their lifelong social ties.

"Adult female coatis form bands of 20 or more individuals and stay busy socializing, looking after youngsters and finding food," says Wendt. "There does seem to be a dominance hierarchy within the group. Adult males do not help raise young and are solitary for most of the year. Their top priority is finding enough food."

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There are four species of coatis: two that live in the lower elevations, and two that hang out in mountain habitats. Both species of mountain coatis — native to Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador — are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"Threats to the mountain coati species include deforestation, expansion of agriculture, vehicle strikes and hunting. In many areas, coatis are considered a pest due to [their] occasional predation of chickens and damage to crops," according to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

Although it's possible to get a permit to keep a coati as a pet in some states in the U.S., it's not recommended.

"Coatis are wildlife and should not be kept as pets," says Wendt. "They have a lifelong curiosity, agility and strength, and have been likened to keeping a super smart toddler who never grows up."

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