These monkeys are New World monkeys, and they live in the tropical forests of Central and South America. All seven species in the genus are threatened. The IUCN Red List declares one species to be vulnerable, four species to be endangered, and two species critically endangered. The black-headed and the brown spider monkeys are in the last category.
Spider monkeys get their common name from their really long arms and their prehensile tails, which can wrap around a branch and support their the entire body weight. When the monkeys walk, their arms practically drag on the ground. They use their tails for balance, and not their arms. While in the treetops, the animals are very graceful and nimble. Their fingers are long and recurved, and their thumbs are quite short. Their tails serve as a fifth hand as they swing from branch to branch.
Only gibbons are said to be more agile than spider monkeys. The treetops are where spider monkeys feel at home and spend much of their time. That's where they forage, and they sleep there at night. They are highly social animals and generally gather in groups of as many as two or three dozen. At night, they split up into small sleeping parties of a half dozen or fewer. Foraging also occurs in smaller groups.
|Black Spider Monkeys |
Photographer: Eric Baccega/Getty Images
The monkeys' preferred diet consists of fruits and nuts, but they will also eat leaves, bark, bird eggs, insects, and honey, if their usual fare is not available. Spider monkeys can be quite noisy. They communicate with many calls, screeches, barks, screams, whinnies, and other sounds.
|Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Costa Rica |
Photographer: Arturo de Frias Marques
A troop of monkeys usually spends most of the night sleeping in carefully selected trees. Groups are thought to be led by an alpha female. Her job is to plan an efficient feeding route each day. Most of the foraging is done between dawn and 10:00 a.m. After that, the adults rest while the young monkeys play. More feeding may take place from time to time during the day until about 10:00 at night. Spider monkeys do not spend much time grooming, possibly because their short thumbs make the activity difficult.
These monkeys are among the largest of those in the New World, with the biggest males weighing 24 pounds. This means that they yield enough meat to make it worthwhile for indigenous people to hunt them. Because of their size, spider monkeys need a habitat consisting of large tracts of moist, evergreen forest and undisturbed primary rainforest. Sadly, much of this type of habitat is being lost to logging and farming.
|Captive White-Bellied Spider Monkey|
Female spider monkeys only give birth to a single baby every two to five years. For the first ten weeks after birth, the baby is totally dependent on its mother. After that, it begins to explore on its own and play with other young monkeys. Mothers continue to care for their offspring for the first year of their lives and often move about with the babies clinging to their backs.
|Red-faced spider monkey|
Young monkeys are very cute, of course, and you may be thinking that it would be nice to have one as a pet. But if you think this, you are WRONG! First of all, spider monkeys can never be potty-trained. The baby ones will wear diapers, but older monkeys will just rip their diapers off. So you will need to keep your monkey in an enclosure where you can clean up after it.
|Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Belize Zoo Photographer Michael Schamis|
Besides which, it's a long-term commitment to have a pet monkey because their can live 30 years or so. They require social interaction and attention, plus you have to spend a lot of money on feeding and taking care of them. In some places, it is illegal to have a wild animal as a pet. And that's what monkeys are. They are wild animals who should have the best place possible to live. If they can't be in the rainforest, they at least deserve to live in a zoo or wildlife reserve.
So don't go out and buy yourself a monkey. It's bad for the monkey, and it's bad for you, too. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it!