Monkeys of South and Central America

Brown owl monkey
Getty Images/Picture by Tambako the Jaguar

South American monkeys are one of the most delightful animals to experience. Between South and Central America there are a variety of monkeys, and depending on where you are, and what time of day, you might see one or more species.

Aotus Monkey

In the warmer, tropical areas, you might see an Aotus (Owl monkey) the only truly nocturnal primate in northern South America. These South American monkeys spend the day in hollow trees or dense vegetation and emerge at dusk to start feeding. Small, under two pounds, the little owl monkey can adapt to a dangerous situation and become partly diurnal, or awake during the day.

Tamarin Monkey

Other monkeys in tropical areas are the titi or tamarin monkeys (Saguinus geoffroyi) and white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus). They've already seen and heard the howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata).

The Callicebus (Titi) tamarin monkey likes insects and ripe, sweet fruit. Tamarins live in groups of up to five individuals, all ages, and both sexes. Tamarin females bear twins, and others in the group assist in monkey-rearing. 

The Panamanian tamarin, known as the "red-crested" tamarin, weighs only about 1 pound when adult. They have a bright white chest while their arms and neck are red-brown with a tortoiseshell mottling down the back and sides. Their high-pitched call is like a bird call, and they are of the early-to-bed, early-to-rise school of thought.

The golden-headed lion tamarin is a small, squirrel-sized monkey, about 26 cm long with a 35 cm tail and long golden lion-like mane. It is predominantly black with golden fur to the front of the mane, the lower half of the front paws and part of the tail.

White-throated capuchin South American monkeys are larger and easier to spot. Adults weigh around 7 pounds and with their white fur, black markings and head "crown" resembling a tonsure, you see why they are named after the Capuchin order of monks. 

Capuchins are a noisy bunch, living in groups of up to 15, with one male as the "alpha", and as they move about during the day, they make continuous screams and twitters that alert others to their presence. They also eat insects and ripe fruit. Their manual dexterity allows them to open and eat nuts. 

For all their chatter, they are also stealthy, able to move silently through the trees and drop branches and leaves.

Goeldi's Monkey

Found in the tropical rainforests of Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Columbia, Goeldi's monkey is a zoological puzzle. It is small and looks rather like a Tamarin and like them, has claws rather than nails on the fingers. But its teeth and skull shape are more like the bigger New World primates, such as Capucins. It is now thought to be in a separate group of primates, distantly related to both Tamarins and Capucins.

Howler Monkey

Howler monkeys live in territorial troops, about 15 to 20 individuals of both sexes and all ages. Howler monkeys have enlarged hyoid and larynx housing the vocal apparatus where the distinctive howling originates. Adult howler males produce ear-splitting howls that let other troops know where they are -- and to stay away. Howlers howl at dawn to advertise their location, a fact that sleeping Castaways might not appreciate.

Adult male black howler monkeys are covered in black hair, yet their faces are nearly hairless. Male howlers are black but have a fringe of reddish-brown hair that is known as a "mantle." They can weigh around 15 pounds, making them the largest tropical primate. A third smaller than males, females have a brownish color, while infants are a creamy color at birth and darken quickly. The mantle appears when fully grown. Howlers are vegetarian, eating leaves and flowers and sometimes fruit.

Article updated 9/29/16 by Ayngelina Brogan

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