Alien Earthlings

in Drake Bay, Costa Rica



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Potos flavus

Although quite common in lowland forests, kinkajous are more often heard than seen. In his book A Neotropical Companion, John Kricher refers to them as the "Banshees of the Rainforest" and after crossing paths with a group of kinkajous it's easy to see why.

Kinkajou - Potos flavus

They speed through the canopy, jumping from tree to tree, whistling and screaming as they pass. Sometimes they travel in small groups, sometimes solitary. Most people's view of kinkajous is of a honey colored hairball speeding through the treetops, way above their heads, and quickly out of sight.

This is unfortunate, because these charming animals are best observed when standing still. On the Night Tour, at times we are fortunate enough to encounter these wonderful animals as they feed, rest or move slowly through the trees. Kinkajou - Potos flavusOn these encounters one can fully appreciate their grace.

Kinkajous are strictly nocturnal and arboreal. Through the years, we have only seen one kinkajou moving around actively during the day and twice have we seen them on the ground. They are incredibly quick, agile, and catlike in their movements and facial features.

Kinkajous have very nimble fingers, essential for manipulating fruit. They are carnivores, although they prefer fruit and flower nectar. Blooming Balsa Trees (Ochroma pyramidale) are great places to encounter them. As they drink from flowers, kinkajous have been observed snatching bats, who also come for the nectar, right out of the air and eating them. As they forage they will also eat bird eggs and hatchlings as well as large insects. Because of their primate-like hand and arboreal lifestyle, they were first thought to be Lemurs and were originally named Lemur flavus. Of course, there are no lemurs in Costa Rica and their name was eventually changed to Potos flavus.

Although they differ in many respects, Raccoons , Coatis, Olingos, and Cacomistles are the Kinkajou's closest relatives in Costa Rica. One important way in which they differ from their kin is by having a long, muscular, prehensile tail. Kinkajous use their tail as a fifth limb and it will fully support their body weight. The prehensile tail helps kinkajous reach thin branches and fulfill their fruity diet. We often see them hanging upside down enjoying a mango or, as in these photographs, a wild passion fruit. There is no other carnivore in America with a prehensile tail and the only other carnivore in the world with a prehensile tail is the binturong of Asia. The binturong is also a frugivore.

The social structure of kinkajous remains poorly understood by scientists. Traditionally, kinkajous were thought to be solitary animals. But, recent studies have shed light on their complex and unique social structure. Kinkajou - Potos flavus

Apparently, typical family groups are made up of two males and one female along with immature members of the group. The males defend a 10 to 40 hectare territory where the female and their offspring feed.

There is a dominant male with primary mating rights, but the submissive male also mates with the group female. All sexually mature members of the group also mate with individuals outside the group. 

Gravid females give birth 100 to 120 days after copulation. They normally have one pup per litter, but may have twins. Female kinkajous provide all parental care for the pups until they become independent from their mothers in about four months time. Kinkajous are long lived animals and scientists estimate their typical lifespan in nature at about 29 years. Captive animals may reach 40 years of age!

Below is a video of a Kinkajou feeding on a mango. We filmed this video during the Night Tour at La Paloma Lodge




Henderson, C.  2002  Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica  University of Texas Press

Janzen, D.  1983  Costa Rican Natural History  University of Chicago Press

Kricher, J.  1989  A Neotropical Companion  Princeton University Press

Rehder, D. and L. Olson. 2007. "Potos flavus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 05, 2008 at 

Wainwright, M.  2002  The Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals  Zona Tropical

Weldon Owen Pty Limited  1993  Encyclopedia of Animals  Barnes & Nobles Books


Mammals of the Osa Peninsula

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Kinkajous - Potos flavus

Common Opossums - Didelphis marsupialis

Northern Tamandua - Tamandua mexicana

Central American Woolly Opossum - Caluromys derbianus


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