In South America, ancient Tupi language-speakers are responsible for naming the coati. The name comes from the words cua for cincture — a bottom- and top-ringed column — and tim for nose. A ringed tail and a tapered snout distinguish the cat-sized, ferret-faced member of the raccoon family of mammals.
There are three kinds of coati:
- Brown-nosed (Nasua nasua);
- Mountain (Nasuella meridensis, N. olivacea);
- White-nosed (Nasua narica).
All coatis choose to spend most of their seven-plus-year lifespans in the treetops. They descend to the ground for exercise, predation, and socialization. S.D. Schindler fictionalizes a coatimundi — Tupi for solitary adult male coati — relishing a foray and a picnic.
Spike and Ike Take a Hike is available — since April 18, 2013 — through the Nancy Paulsen Books division of Penguin’s Young Readers Group. The text reads attractively in Adderville ITC Standard. Marikka Tamura receives credit for the book’s design. The colored-pencil, salt, and watercolor illustrations as well as the jacket art reflect the talents of the author/illustrator. The reading level welcomes pre-kindergarteners, kindergarteners, and first-graders.
The story begins with the coati Ike and the hedgehog Spike traversing blossom-filled meadows, boulder-dotted cliffs, insect-laden bogs, and neatly-trimmed grasslands. In the wild, the interaction can be deemed unlikely:
- The coati — not the hedgehog (Erinaceus spp) — is native to the Americas.
- Coatis resist interacting with genera other than such arthropod-, fruit-, nectar-loving fellow ring-tailed procyonids as kinkajous (Potos flavus) and olingos (Bassaricyon spp).
But in such wildland-urban interfaces as nature reserves and zoological parks, neither one is the other’s predator or prey. The hedgehog in fact is related distantly to the shrew (Soricidae family), an introduced mammal of northern South America’s Andes Mountains. Highland-dwelling coatis join in Andean habitats. Brown-nosed coatis occupy permanently forested areas. Mountain coatis prefer cloud-forest and páramo (alpine-tundra) zones below permanent snow lines.
During their walk, Ike and Spike encounter:
- A blue-footed booby bird (Sula nebouxii) and her “Awk!” squawking newborn;
- A bumblebee (Bombus spp);
- Frogs zapping insects;
- A giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and her calf;
- A kitty-cat.
Like coatis, boobies and bumblebees frequent higher elevations. Frogs and village kitty-cats also inhabit the Andes. But in the wild, coatis and native-born African giraffes never overlap. Their meeting in wildland-urban interfaces nevertheless seems probable since lowland-dwelling white-faced coatis flourish in giraffe-style grassland and savannah habitats.
The wildlife that Ike and Spike meet actually can serve as potential prey for coatis. Scientists consider coatis carnivores even though the reality is omnivores of opportunistic feedings. The coati is known to:
- Appreciate nectar, especially of balsa flowers (Ochroma pyramidale);
- Devour amphibians, bird eggs, and carrion;
- Divest insects of sharp or toxic body parts;
- Eat honey in captivity.
The hiking buddies ultimately enjoy picnicking with Ike’s cousin Rosa. The notion is not improbable. Female and male coatis meet on the ground to eat loudly and socialize noisily.
University of Chicago Professor Norman Maclean (December 23, 1902 – August 2, 1990) advises understanding life’s truths by fictionalizing characters and events. S.D. Schindler does just that.
Decker, D. M. (1991). “Systematics of The Coatis, Genus Nasua (Mammalia, Procyonidae).” Proceedings of The Biological Society of Washington 104: 370-386.
Maclean, N. (1976). A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Schindler, S.D. (2013). Spike and Ike Take a Hike. New York City NY: Nancy Paulsen Books Division of Penguin Young Readers Group.