Potto (Perodicticus potto)

The average body mass for this species is around 1100 grams. On the second digit of the foot there is a claw for grooming. The first digit on the hands face towards the other digits, and the second digit is reduced, thus the potto has a strong grip. The lower cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae are elongated, and these nuchal spines may be related to the musculature of the shoulders and arms (Jewell and Oates, 1969). The index finger is vestigial (Rowe, 1996). This species stores fat during the wet season so as to be able to better survive the dry season (Oates, 1984). The saliva of the potto has been found to contain volatiles, and biting may be a defensive strategy for this species (Alterman, 1995). This species has long, black guard hairs found from the crown to the scapular region (Walker, 1970). These guard hairs are specialized sensory hairs (Walker, 1970). The pelage of the potto is brownish overall (Rowe, 1996). The pelage of the vnetral side is lighter than that of the dorsal side (Ankel-Simons, 2000).

This species is found in the following countries: Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, and Zaire. The potto lives in the canopy of primary forests (Hladik, 1979). It has also been reported that this species lives in mountain forests and secondary forests (Pi, 1972). In secondary forests this species occurs at height from 30 to 40 feet (Jewell and Oates, 1969).


This is a frugivorous species, but also eats invertebrates, leaves, fungi, and gums. Among the insects consumed, the most common are ants especially members of the genus Crematogaster (Hladik, 1979). Other invertebrates consumed by this species include: large beetles, slugs, caterpillars, spiders, and centipedes (Hladik, 1979). This species also eats snails and other molluscs (Jewell and Oates, 1969). Most of the invertebrates consumed tend to have a pungent odor, for example the millipede Spirostreptus sp. and the orthopteran, Zonoceus variegatus (Charles-Dominique, 1977). This species has also been found to hunt for small vertebrates, such as the bat, Epomops franqueti (Charles-Dominique, 1977). The potto was found to consume gum from the species Sterculia tragacantha and Albizia sassa (Oates, 1984). Gums tend to be consumed more during the dry season when fruits and insects are scarce (Oates, 1984). In captivity this species was found to sleep in the same area even when nest boxes were changed (Clauss et al., 1981). In the wild this species will sleep on thin branches covered by dense foliage or in dense vegetation covered with lianas (Charles-Dominique, 1977). This species does not have regular sleeping sites in the wild (Charles-Dominique, 1977). In captivity it was found that pottos form sleeping groups (Clauss et al., 1981). This is a nocturnal and an arboreal species. This species will occasionally come to the ground (Pi, 1972).

This species climbs in a quadrupedal manner in the trees, only coming down to the ground when it has to. Generally it moves slowly so as not to be detected by predators. This species tends to move on the upper surface of supports (Oates, 1984). To avoid predators, the potto has the ability to roll up into a ball and drop from a branch (Walker, 1979). This species will feed from different positions including a four-legged crouch and hanging by two feet (Walker, 1979). The most common resting posture for this species is when uses all four limbs, with a firm grip, to sit on a support and has the back arched (Walker, 1979).

The males have home ranges that overlap two or three females' home ranges, and they check to see if a female is in estrus by the scent marks of urine left by the females. The potto has a polygynous mating system (Charles-Dominique, 1977). The mother will place her young on a tree branch when she forages during the night, but sometimes she will carry it with her (Bearder, 1987). This is a territorial species (Epps, 1972).

In captivity it was found that when one individual is sick others will spend time with them, and it has been found in one instance that a group of pottos will save food for a conspecific that had died (Cowgill, 1972a; Cowgill, 1972b). Also in captivity, males will bring food to females with infants and will help care for the infants in terms of grooming and playing (Cowgill, 1972a; Frederick, 1998). Males in captivity will also hold the baby while the female feeds (Cowgill, 1972a). Males tend to be the only parent that wrestles with the infant (Frederick, 1998).

infant contact call: the call sounds like "tsic". This call has also been called metallic click (Epps, 1972). This call has a fundamental frequency of 15 kilohertz (Epps, 1972). During this call the mouth is retracted at the corners (Epps, 1972).

maternal contact call: this call sounds like "tsic" and is more powerful than the infant "tsic" call.

courtship call: this is a call uttered by the male that sounds very similar to the "tsic" call (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). The male directs the call towards a female who is in estrus (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

aggression call: for the potto this sounds "hee", and this is generally a staccato call. This call can become more intense and become more high pitched (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

two-phase grunt: This call is given when a potto is frightened and is homologous with similar calls given by members of the genus Galago (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

distress call: This call is emitted when in pain and sounds like 'weet' (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). This call is homologous to the same call given by members of the genus Galago (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

spit-click: This call sounds like "ttt ttt" (Epps, 1972). This call is given by a male approaching a female (Epps, 1972). During this call the mouth is retracted at the corners (Epps, 1972).

This is important for the potto, as it communicates individual identity, position, and physical/emotional state to other conspecifics.

fear scent: This is a warning signal secreted from the external genitalia glands (Manley, 1972). This warns others of potential or actual danger (Manley, 1972).

perineal rubbing: This is when the perineal region is used to scent mark to demarcate an individual's territory (Epps, 1972). Secretions from this region may also act as an attractant for insects (Cowgill, 1966).

urine-marking: This is where a potto will either move forward and deposit urine on a substrate or deposit urine while resting by raising and lowering the hindquarters (Charles-Dominique, 1977). This behavior is used to demarcate a territory (Charles-Dominique, 1977).

aggressive posture: This is where all four limbs are extended, touching the substrate, the neck extended, eyes directed forward, and the nuchal region directed at the stimulus (Walker, 1970). This is a threat behavior (Walker, 1970).

social grooming: This is when one individual will groom another conspecific by holding the fur and groom using the tongue to lick and the dental comb to rake through the hair (Manley, 1972). This behavior often occurs in captivity (Manley, 1972). This is used to reinforce social bonds between individuals. This behavior tends to be reciprocal rather than mutual (Epps, 1972). This behavior tends to be concentrated in the area of nuchal spines (Epps, 1972).

genital-scratching grooming: This is like social grooming except that the groomer will rub their genitals, scratching in an unprosimian-like manner, with the tips of the fingers and then grasp the groomee, spreading secretions on the groomee (Manley, 1972). After a grooming bout, the groomer will bend down and lick its scrotal or pseudoscrotal area (Manley, 1972). The groomee may also lick or smell the groomer's genitalia (Manley, 1972). The behavior occurs with both individuals in almost any position even when suspended by the feet (Manley, 1972). This behavior is performed by both males and females (Manley, 1972).

The potto avoids predators by moving slowly through the forest, but when confronted, will employ a defensive posture. This is where the potto will clamp down on a branch and present its neck, which has extra layers of skin and the elongated spines on the vertebrae, to the predator. If attacked the potto will bite down on the snout of the predator.

The potto gives birth to a single offspring. The offspring of the species (as are other Loridae young) are more precocial than other primates. Most births occur from the end of the dry season to the beginning of the wet season (Pi, 1972). The female's vulva will swell up and redden when she is in estrus (Hafez, 1971). The female will also signal that she is ready to copulate by suspending herself upside down (Hafez, 1971). Gestation length for this species is about 193 days (Klopfer and Boskoff, 1979). Infants tend to be born during the day, which differs from the normal time of activity which is during the night (Cowgill and Zeman, 1980). Potto infants are born with their eyes open and have the ability to cling to their mother's fur (Klopfer and Boskoff, 1979). At birth the infant's pelage is white and the eyes are blue in color (Cowgill, 1969). Over time the infant's pelage becomes more gray and the eyes darken (Cowgill, 1969). The mother first carries the infant on her abdomen, then as the infant becomes older it will switch to riding on the mother's back (Charles-Dominique, 1977).

Alterman, L. 1995. Toxins and toothcombs: Potential allospecific chemical defenses in Nycticebus and Perodicticus. in Creatures of the Dark: The Nocturnal Prosimians. eds. L. Alterman, G.A. Doyle, and M.K. Izard. Plenum Press: New York.

Ankel-Simons, F. 2000. Primate Anatomy. Academic Press: San Diego.

Bearder, S.K. 1987. Lorises, Bushbabies, and Tarsiers: Diverse Societies in Solitary Foragers. in Primate Societies. eds. B.B. Smuts, D.L. Cheney, R.M. Seyfarth, R.W. Wrangham, and T.T. Struhsaker. University of Chicago Press.

Burton, F. 1995. The Multimedia Guide to the Non-human Primates. Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.

Charles-Dominique, P. 1977. Ecology and Behavior of Nocturnal Prosimians. Duckworth: London.

Clauss, G., Hultsch, H., Duvall, F., and Todt, D. 1981. Factors influencing choice and social utilization of resting places in captive pottos (Perodicticus potto M.). in Primate Behavior and Sociobiology. eds. A.B. Chiarelli and R.S. Corruccini. Springer-Verlag: Berlin.

Cowgill, U.M. 1966. Perodicticus potto and some insects. Journal of Mammology. Vol. 47(1), 156-157.

Cowgill, U.M. 1969. Some observations on the prosimian Perodicticus potto. Folia Primatologica. Vol. 11, 144-150.

Cowgill, U.M. 1972a. Co-operative behaviour in Perodicticus. in Prosimian Biology. eds. R.D. Martin, G.A. Doyle, and A.C. Walker. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh.

Cowgill, U.M. 1972b. Death in Perodicticus. Primates. Vol. 13(3), 251-256.

Cowgill, U.M. and Zeman, L.B. 1980. Life span in captive nocturnal prosimians (Perodicticus potto) with reproductive and mortality records. Primates. Vol. 21(3), 437-439.

Epps, J. 1972. Social interactions of Perodicticus potto kept in captivity in Kampala, Uganda. in Prosimian Biology. eds. R.D. Martin, G.A. Doyle, and A.C. Walker. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh.

Estes, R. D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press.

Frederick, C. 1998. Observations of parental care in Perodicticus potto at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Folia Primatologica. Vol. 69, 312-317.

Hafez, E.S.E. 1971. Reproductive Cycles. in Comparative Reproduction of Nonhuman Primates. ed. E.S.E. Hafez. C.C. Thomas

Hladik, C.M. 1979. Diet and ecology of prosimians. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. G.A. Doyle and R.D. Martin. Academic Press: New York.

Jewell, P.A. and Oates, J.F. 1969. Ecological observations on the Lorisoid primates of African lowland forest. Zoologica Africana. Vol. 4(2), 231-248.

Klopfer, P.H. and Boskoff, K.J. 1979. Maternal behavior in prosimians. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. G.A. Doyle and R.D. Martin. Academic Press: New York.

Manley, G.H. 1972. Functions of the external genital glands of Perodicticus and Arctocebus. in Prosimian Biology. eds. R.D. Martin, G.A. Doyle, and A.C. Walker. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh.

Oates, J.F. 1984. The niche of the potto, Perodicticus potto. International Journal of Primatology. Vol. 5(1), 51-61.

Petter, J.J. and Charles-Dominique, P. 1979. Vocal communication in prosimians. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. G.A. Doyle and R.D. Martin. Academic Press: New York.

Pi, J.S. 1972. Notes on the ecology of five Lorisiformes of Rio Muni. Folia Primatologica. Vol. 18, 140-151.

Rowe, N. 1996. The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. Pogonias Press: East Hampton, New York.

Walker, A. 1970. Nuchal adaptations in Perodicticus potto. Primates. Vol. 11, 135-144.

Walker, A. 1979. Prosimian locomotor behavior. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. G.A. Doyle and R.D. Martin. Academic Press: New York.

Last Updated: October 12, 2003.
[The Primata] [Primate Fact Sheets] [Family Loridae] [Perodicticus Links]