Spoiled Brats: Is Extreme Juvenile Agonism in Ring-Tailed Coatis (Nasua nasua) Dominance or Tolerated Aggression?


Ben T. Hirsch, IDPAS, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.
E-mail: bthirsch@ic.sunysb.edu


Ring-tailed coatis exhibit an extreme form of juvenile agonism not found in other social mammals. Two groups of habituated, individually recognized, coatis were studied over a 2.5-yr period in Iguazu National Park, Argentina. Dominance matrices were divided by year and group, resulting in four dominance hierarchies which were analyzed using the Matman computer program. Strong general patterns were seen in both groups during both years. Adult males (one per group) were the highest ranking individuals, followed by male juveniles, female juveniles, adult females, and male and female subadults. The pattern in which young, physically inferior individuals were able to outrank larger adults is different from other social mammal species in that the juvenile coatis aggressively defended food resources and directed aggression towards older individuals. These agonistic interactions may not reflect ‘dominance’ in the traditional sense, and appear to be a form of ‘tolerated aggression.’ This tolerated aggression leads to increased access to food, and should help juveniles during a period in which they need to rapidly gain weight and grow. Because this tolerance of juvenile aggression is reinforced through coalitionary support of juveniles by adult females, agonistic patterns are also consistent with the hypothesis that juvenile rank is being influenced by high degrees of relatedness within coati groups. Although some interesting parallels exist, there is little evidence indicating that these dominance patterns are the same as those found in other social mammals such as hyenas, lions, meerkats, or Cercopithicine primates.