Have you ever heard of a kinkajou? Kinkajous are called “honey bears”, although they are unrelated to bears at all, aside from being a mammal. These little animals would be most closely related to raccoons and coatis, actually. They diverged evolutionarily from other Procyonidae (raccoon family) very early on and followed a different path than most of the other members of the family. They live in Central and South America and are perfectly at home in the trees. Although they may look like monkey and also have a prehensile tail, they aren’t closely related to primates at all. In fact, these little animals are actually the only member of their genus.
They evolved in Central America millions of years ago, before the volcanic formation of the Panama Isthmus. This event is called the Great American Interchange because North and Central American life traveled South and South American life traveled North.
The kinkajou is strictly noctural and are the most active in the early hours of the night, between sundown and midnight. They are called carnivores and have sharp enough teeth for it, but they actually mostly eat fruit. 90% of a kinkajou’s diet consists of fruits. They have a long tongue which they use to consume the soft flesh of the fruits, mostly figs. The other 10% is mostly leaves and flowers, and occasionally insects. Sometimes while eating flowers pollen may collect near their mouth or hands, and so in this way they are important pollinators in their habitat.
Similar to many monkeys, Kinkajous live in groups and are social. They also participate in social grooming. Usually they will forage and eat alone, although interestingly they will sometimes work alongside olingos, who are the most similar Procyonid to kinkajous. Olingos are also fruit-eaters and live in the trees, and this is an example of parallel rather than shared evolution. That means that they evolved alongside one another to behave and live similarly and do not have a recent common ancestor from whom they inherited those traits.
Kinkajous live in tropical forests and some rainforests. Because of this, they are put in danger by deforestation. Thankfully, they are not considered endangered, although because of their nocturnal schedule and their homes and travel being high in the canopy, they aren’t often seen by humans. They are also targets of the exotic pet trade because of their playfulness and docility, but hopefully in years to come there will be a stop put to that. Captivity is also why they are called “honey bears”, because they have been seen to eagerly eat honey if it is given to them but they don’t actually seek it out in the wild.
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