What kind of creature do you get when you combine a raccoon, a bear and a monkey? In this lesson you will learn about a unique creature, the kinkajou.


Kinkajous are small mammals that can be found in Central and South America. They are considered arboreal because they are tree dwellers, and are quite comfortable in the tropical forest, living within the canopy.

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Kinkajous often travel from tree to tree through the overlapping branches. They are not easy to study because they are nocturnal and spend most of their time high in the trees.

Kinkajou habitat map
Kinkajou habitat

Physical Characteristics

Even though kinkajous are related to raccoons, they’re often mistaken for primates.

They have a long prehensile tail that helps with their balance. The tail grips the branch while they’re reaching for food. They can also hang by the tip of their tail and climb back up with it. Most kinkajous range in length from 16 to 30 inches, but their tail is usually longer than their head and body combined. Kinkajous can weigh anywhere from three to ten pounds as adults. Their fur is usually golden brown and extremely dense, which helps to keep their skin dry.

Golden brown kinkajou
Golden brown kinkajou


Kinkajous are considered carnivores because of the shape of their teeth. Even though they do eat eggs, insects and small vertebrates at times, their preferred food is actually fruit and nectar. Their 5-inch long tongue allows them to reach the nectar inside many flowers found in the tropical rainforest. Kinkajous also assist in pollination because they go from flower to flower with pollen stuck to the fur on their faces. They also really enjoy honey, which is why they are also known as ‘honey bears.’ Their thick fur also protects them from bee stings while they are foraging for honey.


Female kinkajous usually have one baby at a time, often in the spring or summer. The mothers hide their babies in the hollow of a tree to protect them while they go out and forage for food. Baby kinkajous are born with their eyes closed, and they stay that way for a couple of weeks. After about a month, the eyes are open and the baby can already hang by its tail. Kinkajous usually live for about 20 years.


Wild cats like jaguars and ocelots are predators of the kinkajou, as well flying creatures like hawks.

However, kinkajous have several interesting adaptations, or characteristics that help them evade their predators and thrive in their environment. They are able to turn their feet backwards, allowing them to run in either direction along the branches and the trunks of the trees to escape. Kinkajous also have such good hearing that they can even detect the movements of a snake.

Their flexible spine allows them to curl up tightly while sleeping, which helps to hide them from their flying predators.

A small kinkajou

Lesson Summary

Kinkajous are small mammals that are found in Central and South America. They are nocturnal and arboreal, dwelling in the canopy of the rain forests, and have a long prehensile tail that can grip branches as they gather their favorite foods like fruit and nectar.

They can live to be over 20 years old, and have unique adaptations that allow them to evade their predators, like feet that can turn backwards and a flexible spine that lets them curl up tightly and hide in the trees.


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