When I visited a resort in Mexico (judge me if you must), I did not expect to meet, on my way to the buffet, furry four-legged creatures with lemur-like ringed tails and pointy, meerkat-like snouts. I did not recognize them from any nature documentary or cartoon I'd seen. What were they?
What's in a name?
I was on a self-imposed Internet vacation, so I asked a waiter what the dog-sized creatures were called and he said something like “ti-ho” (I later figured out it was probably the Spanish word for the animal, tejón). Later, I asked a guide about them, during an excursion to see Mayan ruins. She told me they were called coati, pronounced koh-ah-tee. The Mayans used to eat them, but don't anymore.
When I got home to my computer, I found out they are also called coatimundi. The ones in the Yucatán Peninsula are white-nosed coati, though the nose is actually black. The scientific name of the white-nosed coati is Nasua narica, described by Linnaeus—the father of taxonomy himself, back in 1766. They are in the family Procyonidae, along with raccoons. I could see the family resemblance with the patterning on their faces, the rings on their tails and the way they walked.
Home is where the food is
Besides the Mayan Riviera, coatis live in the forests of Central and South America. With the increasing loss of original habitats, this means they often reside in secondary forests and forest edges, like the ones bordering resorts. Coatis make nests and sleep in the trees at night and then forage on the ground during the day. I saw one clamber up a tree outside my room, but I mainly noticed them on the grass or in garbage bins, during the mornings or afternoons. I also saw their footprints on the beach.
What's on the menu today?
As omnivores, coatis usually eat fruit, insects and worms. I saw some coatis digging up the lawns with their claws and sticking their snouts in there, presumably for food. I read something about them eating rodents or lizards, but the anoles and meaty iguanas I saw, seemed fairly relaxed. The resort posted wordless signs indicating that people should not feed the animals, but a lot of good that did. The coatis certainly did not turn their snouts up at handouts from tourists.
Put a ringtail on it
Mature males are solitary, while females and young males form groups. They can have bands of up to a hundred. I just saw individuals and small groups. At the time, I wasn't checking out their genital equipment to confirm the group composition. It should be feasible to do so, however, if you are so inclined, because you can get an eyeful when they walk around with their long, ringed tails held up in the air. This is supposed to help them keep track of each other while walking through high vegetation in the forest, though they seemed to do it on lawns as well.
So, if you’re heading down south, this may give you something else to look forward to, besides the nachos and cervezas.