Squirrel monkeys sometimes raid fruit plantations. They are social and live in bands of 12 to 30 or more. They live in many types of forest. They spend most of their time in trees. However, some populations of squirrel monkeys have made their homes in areas cleared of trees for agriculture. These monkeys tend to live close to streams for reasons of safety. Squirrel monkeys form complex social groups, or troops, which are larger than those of any other monkey species in the Americas. In pristine rainforests, the troops can number up to 300 individuals.
Squirrel monkeys have black, hairless snouts and helmets of dark fur around their pale faces. Their ears are covered in pale fur. The rest of the body is more brightly coloured, in hues of pale yellow and red, and the mobile tail has a black tip. The body is slender in shape.
Males do not help in raising the young and during the mating season (the dry part of the year) they establish hierarchies by fighting each other. Only dominant males get to mate with the females. Soon after giving birth to their single offspring, the new mothers chase away the breeding males, which reform their bachelor subgroups. Adolescent males, too old to stay with their mothers, eventually join these subgroups, having fought their way in.
The female gives birth to 1 young after a gestation of 24 to 26 weeks. The newborn squirrel monkey infant is able to climb soon after birth and receives little attention from its parents.
Distribution: Central America to Amazon Basin.
Habitat: Tropical forest, close to streams.
Food: Fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, gums and insects.
Size: 26 - 36 cm (10 - 14 in); 0.75 - 1.1 kg (1.65 - 2.4 lb).
Maturity: Females 3 years; males 5 years.
Breeding: Single young born from June-August.
Life span: 20 years.
Status: Lower risk.
Common Squirrel Monkey
These monkeys, so-called because they look rather like squirrels, live in large groups of up to 200 individuals, with a complex social structure.
These primates practise an unusual form of scent-marking, by urinating on their hands and then depositing their scent as they walk along the branches. Squirrel monkeys spend most of their time in the treetops, and rarely descend to the ground. Squirrel monkeys tend to split up into small groups each day, heading off in different directions in the forest to search for food, with individuals keeping in touch by calling. Members of the troop roost communally at night.
Distribution: Ranges across northern forested parts of South America, from Colombia and Venezuela through the Guianas into Brazil; range also extends south to Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Weight: 560 - 1250 g (19.5 - 44.1 oz); males are heavier
Length: 64 - 84 cm (25 - 33 in) overall; tail is longer than the body
Maturity: Females about 2 years; males 4 years
Gestation Period: 160 - 180 days; births coincide with the wet season
Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 6 months
Diet: Fruit and invertebrates, plus leaves and flowers
Lifespan: Up to 20 years in captivity.
This is long, and acts as a balancing aid rather than being prehensile.
A shorter inner digit, corresponding to our big toe, is present on each foot.
The head is rounded, with low-set, white ears.
Males have much larger canine teeth at the corner of the jaws, compared with females.
Tail and feet
These primates will scent-mark by using their feet.
Young squirrel monkeys have no apparent fear of falling, although individuals do occasionally lose their footing, with fatal consequences.
The position of the monkey’s eyes, at the front of the head, mean that it can pinpoint prey with great accuracy.
Central American Squirrel Monkey
Size: 22 - 30 cm (8.5 - 12 in); 0.5 - 1.1 kg (1 - 2.5 lb).
Found along the Pacific coast of Panama and Costa Rica, this species occurs in a variety of habitats, from rainforest to mangrove swamps and thickets. Like other squirrel monkeys, it has a slender body and a long, prehensile tail. The predominantly yellow fur is slightly paler on the underside, and there is a black crown on the head. Central American squirrel monkeys travel in small troops. They occasionally gather in larger groups, when monkeys may move between troops.