The kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the honey 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. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not related.
Although the kinkajou is classified in the order Carnivora and has sharp teeth, its omnivorous diet consists mainly of fruit. Kinkajous enjoy bananas, pineapple, nectar, honey, insects, grapes, mangos, melons, and peas, as well as larger insects and an occasional bird.
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 has a short-haired, fully prehensile tail (like some New World monkeys), which it uses as a "fifth hand" in climbing. It does not use its tail for grasping food. 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 colors.
Kinkajous breed throughout the year, giving birth to one or occasionally two small babies after a gestation period of 112 to 118 days.
Kinkajous are sometimes kept as pets. They are playful, generally quiet and docile, and have no noticeable odor. 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, 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.
There are seven subspecies of kinkajou: