Olingo

Bassaricyon gabbii

Last updated: November 21, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock.com

Olingos are part of the raccoon family.

Olingo Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Procyonidae
Genus
Bassaricyon
Scientific Name
Bassaricyon gabbii

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Olingo Locations

Olingo Locations

Olingo Facts

Prey
insects, small mammals, birds
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Group
  • Largely solitary
Fun Fact
Olingos are part of the raccoon family.
Gestation Period
73 to 74 days
Age Of Independence
two months
Litter Size
one
Habitat
arboreal, lowland, highland, montane
Predators
of boa constrictors, jaguarundi and ocelot, and tayra
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
  • Solitary
  • Group
Favorite Food
fruits especially figs
Common Name
olingo
Origin
Central and South America
Number Of Species
4
Location
Central and South America

Olingo Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • White
  • Multi-colored
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
25 in captivity
Weight
2.6 to 3.1 pounds
Length
14 to 20 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
21 to 24 months
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Olingos are part of the raccoon family.

Olingo Facts

  • They possess anal scent glands which produce a pungent odor when the animal is scared. This is designed to drive enemies away. 
  • They are nocturnal animals. They are active in the night and sleep in tree cavities during the day. 
  • Although they are omnivores, they mostly eat fruit, especially figs. They rarely eat any meat, unless they have to. 
  • They are arboreal animals, meaning they live mostly in trees and swing from branch to branch. Their tiny, slender frame makes this easy. 
  • Both female and males usually have multiple partners during mating season. 
  • Babies are born blind, deaf, and covered with a fine down. 

Olingo Summary

Olingos inhabit Central America and South America and rarely live in zoos or captivity. These adorable creatures are cousins of the raccoon, but unlike raccoons, they live in trees. You rarely see a wild olingo on the ground, but if you do, try not to approach it. Just like skunks, they release a horrible smelling chemical through their scent glands when they are scared. 

Scientific Name

Olingos are from Spanish-speaking South and Central America. Their name means “howler monkey” in Spanish and is often interchanged with kinkajous, an animal that closely resembles the olingo. The name refers to any member of the genus Bassaricyon, a group of arboreal mammals. 

There are four species of olingos: 

  • The eastern lowland olingo (Bassaricyon alleni
  • The western lowland olingo (Bassaricyon medius
  • The northern olingo (Bassaricyon gabbii
  • Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina

Olingos belong to the raccoon family Procyonidae, a group of mostly omnivorous, slender animals with long tails. Other animals that belong to this family are raccoons and kinkajous.   

Evolution and History

The coati is the olingo’s closest relative; the two animals evolved separately about 10.2 million years ago. 

The species under Bassaricyon began divergence 3.5 million years ago, first with Bassaricyon neblina, and then Bassaricyon gabbii, which broke off about 1.8 million years ago. Bassaricyon medius and Bassaricyon alleni split off about 1.3 million years ago. According to research, the olingo’s ancestors established themselves in Central America shortly before the genus began to diversify into different species. 

Olingos have several physical adaptations to suit their arboreal lifestyle. They developed long hind legs and sharp claws which are great for jumping and climbing trees. Although olingos are omnivores, they have so adapted to life in the trees that they mostly eat plants and fruit, only resorting to eating insects and flesh when vegetation is lacking during the dry season. Olingos release a terrible-smelling chemical when threatened or distressed. 

Olingo Appearance

Olingos are part of the raccoon family and share some structural similarities to them. However, their bodies are built for life in the trees. They have a slender build, and their hind legs are significantly longer than their fore legs. Olingos also have long bushy tails, large round eyes, pointed muzzles, and short ears. Unlike some other arboreal species, their tails are not prehensile, which means they can’t use them like hands to grab onto branches and other things. 

Olingo feet are modified for an ideal arboreal existence. The bottoms of their feet are hairy and they have short, curved claws on their moderately flat toes. 

Most olingo species have short grayish-brown fur except olinguitos whose fur is more reddish-brown and long. Olingos have cream to yellow-colored undersides. Their tails are the same color as their body, and they have bands of darker colored fur running along it. 

Adult olingos typically grow to reach lengths of 14 to 20 inches from head to body. Their tails can grow up to 19 inches long. Olingos weigh anything between 2.6 to 3.1 pounds, about as heavy as a small bag of potatoes. 

Olingo
Most olingo species have short grayish-brown fur.

©Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock.com

Olingo Behavior

Olingos are nocturnal omnivores and frugivores. They are active at night when the chance of attack is low. They sleep in crevices in large trees during the day. Even though they are usually solitary animals, they spend some of their time in pairs. This may indicate that scientists need to do more research on the sociability of these animals. Otherwise, olingos are around other olingos either during mating season, or in small groups when searching for food. 

They are arboreal animals which means they live in trees. However, the range of the preferred elevation of each species differs. Olinguitos are distinguished from other species not just by their appearance, but also by the elevation which they prefer to live in. They live in the highest elevation range, from 5,000 to 9,000 feet, while the other olingos prefer to live at lower altitudes. In fact, the olinguito’s specific name neblina means fog in Spanish because they live in the cloud forests in Ecuador and Colombia.   

Olingos have anal scent glands which, like that of the skunk’s, secrete a foul-smelling chemical when they are afraid. This scent drives their enemies away. 

Olingo Diet

Ever met a predatory animal that preferred to eat fruit instead? Olingos are omnivorous and frugivorous animals. Their main diet consists of fruit, particularly figs, and they enjoy the sweet nectar of balsa trees as well. Although this animal primarily eats plants, it can eat insects and hunt birds and small mammals such as mice and other rodents. However, this only happens on rare occasions during the dry season when the olingo doesn’t have anything else to eat. 

Habitat and Population

Olingos are native to South and Central America. The western lowland olingo hails from Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador. The eastern lowland olingo is the only species that lives east of the Andes River. It inhabits the countries of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil. The olinguito lives in Ecuador and Colombia. 

The northern olingo lives in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the western region of Panama. Although some people claim to have sighted these animals in other countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, there has not been enough substantial evidence backing these claims. Northern olingos look a lot like kinkajous, as well as other species. 

These animals can dwell in lowland regions at sea level and mountain regions with elevations of up to 9,000 feet. 

Even though their population is decreasing, they are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Reproduction and Lifespan

Olingos are polygamous animals. While some animals practice polygyny wherein the male mates with several females, both male and female olingos have multiple partners during the mating season. 

We don’t know much about the reproductive mechanisms of wild olingos. They most likely breed during the dry season and their gestation period lasts 73 to 74 days. They typically give birth to only one offspring at a time. Babies are born blind, deaf, and covered with a scanty grayish-black down. They become independent around two months of age and reach sexual maturity at 21 to 24 months. 

These animals usually live about 10 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. 

Predators and Threats

Olingos are arboreal animals, which gives them a survival advantage over other small mammals who live predominantly on the ground. However, this means that they become prey to larger animals who also dwell in trees. They are prey to several types of boa constrictors, wild cats like the jaguarundi and ocelot, and tayra which belong to the weasel family. 

They typically emit a foul odor from their anal scent gland when frightened or threatened. They are also jumping animals and can make a quick getaway in the trees when they are in danger. 

A major threat olingos face is loss of habitat. Human activity has resulted in almost 50% of their territory being destroyed in order to create agricultural and city areas. However, this activity has not led to their endangerment. Their population is still very much stable in the wild. 

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Olingo FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do olingos defend themselves?

Olingos possess scent glands in their anus. These glands produce a foul-smelling chemical when the animal is frightened, just like with skunks.

What do olingos eat?

Olingos mostly eat fruit, especially figs. During the dry season when their favorite food might not be available, they have been known to hunt and eat small rodents such as mice and squirrels.

How big are olingos?

Olingos are relatively small animals, which helps them survive in the trees. They weigh a modest 2.6 to 3.1 pounds.

What is the difference between olingos and olinguitos?

Olinguitos are a species of olingo. You can spot a few characteristics to tell the difference between these animals. Firstly, olinguitos are reddish-brown in color while olingos are typically grayer. Secondly, olinguitos live in very high altitudes of up to 9,000 feet, while other olingos tend to prefer lower altitudes.

What genus do olingos belong to?

Olingos belong to the genus Bassaricyon, which consists of four species.

What family do olingos belong to?

Olingos belong to Procyonidae, also known as the raccoon family.

What order do olingos belong to?

Olingos belong to the order Carnivora.

Are olingos mammals?

Olingos belong to the class Mammalia, which makes them mammals. They are warm-blooded animals and give birth to live young.

What eats olingos?

Olingos are predated upon by jaguarundi, ocelot, tayra, and boas.

Where are olingos from?

Olingos are native to South America. They come from countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Panama, and Brazil.

How long is the olingo pregnant?

The olingo gestation period lasts about 73 to 74 days.

How long is an olingo’s tail?

Olingo tails grow up to 19 inches in length.

Can I keep an olingo as a pet?

Olingos are rarely sold as exotic pets. The governments of the countries where they reside also discourage this because it could threaten the olingo population.

Are olingos aggessive?

Olingos are not known to be aggressive towards humans, mostly because they rarely come into contact with people. They are elusive animals and very little is known about certain aspects of their life.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassaricyon
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_olingo
  3. Animalia, Available here: https://animalia.bio/northern-olingo
  4. Altura Wildlife Sanctuary, Available here: https://www.alturaswildlifesanctuary.org/catalog/olingo/
  5. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olinguito
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_lowland_olingo

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