AskDefine | Define potto

Dictionary Definition



1 arboreal fruit-eating mammal of tropical America with a long prehensile tail [syn: kinkajou, honey bear, Potos flavus, Potos caudivolvulus]
2 a kind of lemur [syn: kinkajou, Perodicticus potto]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A small primate, of the subfamily Perodictictinae, from the tropical rainforests of Africa.

Extensive Definition

The Potto (Perodicticus potto) is a strepsirrhine primate from the Lorisidae family. It is the only species in genus Perodicticus. The name "Potto" possibly comes from the African word "pata", which means tailless ape. The Potto is also known as Bosman's Potto, after its supposed discoverer, and in some English-speaking parts of Africa it is called a Softly-softly.
There are three recognized subspecies:
  • Perodicticus potto potto
  • Perodicticus potto edwardsi
  • Perodicticus potto ibeanus
A few closely related species also have "potto" in their name: the two golden potto species (also known as angwantibos) and the False Potto.


Pottos inhabit the canopy of rain forests in tropical Africa, from Guinea to Kenya and Uganda into the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are nocturnal and arboreal, sleeping during the day in the leaves and almost never descending from the trees.


Pottos grow to a length of 30 to 40 cm with a short (3 to 10 cm) tail and their maximum weight is 1.5 kg. The close, woolly fur is grey brown. The index finger is vestigial, although they have opposable thumbs with which they grasp branches firmly. At the second toes of the hind legs they have the fine claw typical for strepsirrhines. Three of the vertebrae in the Potto's neck have sharp points and nearly pierce the skin; these are used as defensive weapons. Both males and females have large scent glands under the tail (in females, the swelling created by the glands is known as a pseudo-scrotum), which they use to mark their territories and to reinforce pair bonds. Pottos have a distinct odor that some observers have likened to curry.

Locomotion and diet

Pottos move slowly and carefully, always gripping a branch with at least two limbs. They are also quiet creatures. Their commonest call is a high-pitched tsic,' which is used mainly between mother and offspring.
Studies of stomach contents have shown that the Potto diet consists of about 65% fruit, 21% tree gums and 10% insects. Pottos have also occasionally been known to catch bats and small birds. Their strong jaws enable them to eat fruits and lumps of dried gum that are too tough for other tree-dwellers. The insects they eat tend to have a strong smell, possibly because more palatable insects are snatched up by faster-moving creatures.

Territorial and reproductive behaviour

Pottos inhabit firm territories which they mark with urine and glandular secretions, and same-sex intruders are vehemently guarded against, although each male's territory generally overlaps with that of two or more females. Females have been known to donate part of their territories to their daughters, but sons leave their mother's territory upon maturity.
As part of their courting rituals, Pottos often meet for bouts of mutual grooming. This is frequently performed while they hang upside down from a branch. Grooming consists of licking, combing fur with the grooming claw and teeth, and anointing with the scent glands. Pottos mate face-to-face while hanging upside down from a branch.
After a gestation of about 170 days the female gives birth. Births are typically of a single young, but twins are known to occur. The young first are clasped to the belly of the mother, but later she carries them on her back. She can also hide her young in the leaves while searching for food. After about four to five months they are weaned and are fully mature after about 18 months.

Predators and defences

Pottos have relatively few predators, because large mammalian carnivores cannot climb to the treetops where they live, and the birds of prey in this part of Africa are diurnal. One population of chimpanzees living in Mont Assirik, Senegal, was observed to eat Pottos, taking them from their sleeping places during the day; however, this behaviour has not been observed in chimps elsewhere. Pottos living near villages face some predation from humans, who hunt them as bushmeat. They are sometimes harassed by African Palm Civets, although African Palm Civets are largely frugivorous.
If threatened, a Potto will hide its face and neck-butt its opponent, making use of its unusual vertebrae. Pottos can also deliver a powerful bite. Their saliva contains compounds that cause the wound to become inflamed.
The highest recorded life span for a Potto in captivity is 26 years.

Cognition and social behaviour

In a study of prosimian cognition conducted in 1964, Pottos were seen to explore and manipulate unfamiliar objects, but only when those objects were baited with food. They were found to be more curious than lorises and lesser bushbabies, but less so than lemurs. Ursula Cowgill, a biologist at Yale University who looked after six captive Pottos for several decades, noticed that they appeared to form altruistic relationships. The captive Pottos were seen to spend time with a sick companion and to save food for an absent one. However, there is no confirmation that this behaviour occurs in the wild.

Pottos in human culture

The Potto is not particularly familiar to people outside Africa, but some will know it from its appearance in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. Virginia Woolf's nickname was 'Potto,' and James Thurber sketched a Potto for a series of animal cartoons. André Gide wrote an autobiographical story entitled Dindiki ou le pérodictique potto.
potto in Danish: Potto
potto in German: Potto
potto in Basque: Perodictius potto
potto in French: Potto
potto in Croatian: Poto
potto in Dutch: Potto
potto in Polish: Lori potto
potto in Finnish: Potto
potto in Chinese: 樹熊猴
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