Spider Monkey

Black Spider Monkey

Black spider monkeys inhabit lowland rainforest in Central and South America, and extend farther south than brown-headed spider monkeys. The males are among the largest American primates. Black spider monkeys have long black hair, and their faces vary from pink to black. Like other spider monkeys, they lack thumbs and have long arms and flexible shoulder joints - all adaptations for an arboreal existence. Black spider monkeys live in groups of about 20 adults, with three females for every male. The males, which mate with several females, co-operate to prevent males from other groups from having access to the females.

Size: 49 - 58 cm (19 - 23 in); 7 - 9 kg (15.5 - 19.75 lb).

Red-Faced Black Spider Monkey

These long-limbed monkeys are not only the largest members of their genus, but also rank amongst the biggest monkeys in the New World.

Living in the upper levels of the rainforest canopy, typically at 24 - 32 m (79 - 105 ft) off the ground, these monkeys are adept at using their prehensile tails to anchor themselves on to branches. This then leaves their hands free to forage for food. The spider monkey’s tail actually has more vertebrae than usual, which are smaller in size, improving its flexibility. These monkeys can also move quickly through the forest.

Distribution: Occurs in northern South America, from Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana south to Brazil, north of the Amazon River, and also east of the Rio Negro.

Weight: 9.5 - 11 kg (20.9 - 24.2 lb); males are slightly heavier.

Length: About 55 cm (22 in).

Maturity: From 2 years.

Gestation Period: 133 days.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 6 - 8 months.

Diet: Feeds mainly on fruit, but also eats flowers, leaves, bark and honey.

Lifespan: Up to 33 years.

Tail tip

There is an area of bare skin here with lines on it, which gives the tail a better grip.


The long, glossy black hair sets this spider monkey apart from its relatives.

Facial colouring

This ranges from pink through to red. The skin is hairless, apart from some odd white hairs.

On the move

Mothers carry their young on their backs, and are able to walk horizontally along branches, as well as swing off them.


The long limbs and the way in which these monkeys stretch out their bodies is reminiscent of a giant spider.

Brown-headed Spider Monkey

Size: 40 - 60 cm (15.5 - 24 in); 9 kg (19.75 lb).

These spider monkeys live in the rainforests of Central America and the northern tip of South America. They occupy the upper branches of trees, often hanging by their prehensile tail as they forage. Their favoured foods are fruits and leaves, but they will also eat nuts, insects and even birds' eggs. The fur is shaggy, and different subspecies display a variety of colour forms.

Brown-headed spider monkeys lack thumbs, enabling them to grip surfaces more firmly while climbing. They move by swinging from branch to branch or by walking along thicker branches on all fours. These monkeys are expert jumpers, being able to leap across gaps of about 9 m (30 ft). They live in groups of about 20 individuals. Group members rarely all gather in one place, but move around a home range in smaller subgroups.

Black-handed Spider Monkey

Spider monkeys are the most agile of the American primates, not least because their long prehensile tails function as a fifth limb. The animals can pick up food or hold on to branches with their tails. It is not unusual to see one of these monkeys hanging from its tail alone.

Spider monkey troops live high up in forest canopies, and almost never visit the ground. They are most active early in the morning, spending the rest of the day relaxing and digesting tough plant food.

Spider monkeys have very long, prehensile tails and similarly long legs, hence their name. This allows them to be extremely agile in the treetops.

Troops usually contain about 30 individuals, with equal numbers of males and females. However, larger groups of more than 100 have been reported. The males in the troops defend large territories by regularly patrolling the perimeters, while females and young tend to stay close to the centre. Males tend to stay in the troops they were born into, while females move to other troops in the area. Breeding occurs all year round. Spider monkeys reportedly have a unique defensive strategy: when potential predators approach - including humans -the monkeys drop heavy branches on top of them.

Distribution: Mexico to Colombia.

Habitat: Tropical forest.

Food: Fruit, seeds, buds, leaves, insects and eggs.

Size: 38 - 63 cm (15 - 25 in); 6 - 8 kg (13.25 - 17.5 lb).

Maturity: 4 - 5 years.

Breeding: Single young born throughout the year.

Life span: 30 years.

Status: Vulnerable.

Woolly Spider Monkey

The woolly spider monkey usually has a yellowish-gray to brown or reddish coat, and the naked facial skin is often red, especially when the animal becomes excited. Its body is powerful and its limbs are long and slender. The underside of the tail near the tip is naked and extremely sensitive. Woolly spider monkeys often move by swinging from branch to branch, although their thumbs are vestigial and of little use for such locomotion.

The muriqui, or woolly spider monkey, is the largest monkey. This extremely rare monkey lives in the coastal forests of south-eastern Brazil. These forests contain a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees. They have been heavily deforested as land is cleared for agriculture and settlement, and now few areas of forest are large enough to support populations of the muriqui. Despite the decline of their natural habitat, muriquis are adaptable enough to survive in all but the most damaged forests. For example, they will readily troop across open ground to reach isolated pockets of forest.

Like most New World monkeys, this species has a long prehensile tail, which can grip branches. As it swings through the trees, the muriqui hangs from its fingers. Its thumbs are very small and almost useless. The coat is a greyish-gold, and the face a sooty-black. They have a pot-bellied appearance.

Little is known about muriqui society. The animals live in promiscuous groups, where all adults mate freely with each other. Females seem to have more control over mating times than males. With females holding dominant positions, it is they who leave the groups of their birth to join neighbouring ones. The males stay in the same group for their whole lives.

Wooly spider monkeys are active in the daytime. Muriquis eat leaves, flowers and seeds, but fruit is their preferred food. In fact, if a group of muriquis find a rich source of unripe fruit, they may wait for days, feeding on leaves, until the fruit becomes edible. Muriquis are occasionally preyed on by jaguars, ocelots and harpy eagles.

Distribution: South-east Brazil.

Habitat: Coastal forest.

Food: Fruit, leaves, flowers and seeds.

Size: 45 - 65 cm (18 - 26 in); 12 - 15 kg (26.5 - 33 lb).

Maturity: 6 - 11 years.

Breeding: Single young born every 2 - 3 years.

Life span: 12 - 25 years.

Status: Critically endangered.

White-bellied Spider Monkey

The white-bellied spider monkey lives in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador, and ranges into Brazil along the northern fringes of the Amazon Basin. It lives in the rainforests that grow in the region’s lowlands. It is rarely found in forest more than a few hundred metres above sea level.

The white-bellied spider monkey lives in groups of between 20 and 40 individuals. There are generally three adult females for every male group member. (The other males live in small male-only groups and wait for an opportunity to join a mixed troop.) Each female will mate with one or all of the males in the group in quick succession, generally on the same day.

The monkeys forage during the day. They are able to hang from branches by their highly prehensile tails and pick fruits and other foods with their free hands. These little monkeys move around the forest by using their forelimbs to swing from branch to branch.

This species has very long arms and legs, which are longer than its body. The prehensile tail is used for picking up food and holding branches.

Distribution: North-eastern Amazon Basin.

Habitat: Rainforests.

Food: Fruit, leaves, seeds and dead wood.

Size: 34 - 59 cm (13.5 - 23 in); 5.9 - 10.4 kg (13 - 23 lb).

Maturity: 4 - 5 years.

Breeding: Single offspring produced every 2 - 4 years.

Life span: 30 - 40 years.

Status: Endangered.