Spider Monkey

spider monkey

Scientific Name: Ateles geoffroyi

Kingdom: Animalia


Class: Mammalia



Distribution:Spider Monkeys live in tropical climates, specifically the evergreen forests of Central and South America. They can also be found as far north as Mexico.

Habitat:Spider Monkeys are arboreal (inhabits in trees). Thriving in the upper canopy, spider monkeys hunt with ease and without the competition of other primates. Also, it should be noted that they sometimes inhabit semi deciduous and mangrove forests.

Description:Spider Monkeys have a distinctive feature from other monkeys, glossy hair that covers their entire body except for the face. Their long lanky arms and prehensile (gripping) tails allow them to move among the trees with ease. They do not have thumbs however they can still grip powerfully to tree branches without any limitations. Another particular feature of the spider monkeys is the patch of skin that they have at the end of their tails. This patch works very similar to a finger, it helps to increase their gripping ability.

Diet:Spider monkeys are omnivorous more specifically they are categorized as fruigivorous because of their fruit and seed based diet. They also tend to feed on young leaves, flowers, aerial roots, occasionally bark and wood, honey, insects/insect larvae, and bird eggs. Spider monkeys eat while hanging, climbing or moving. Rarely they feed on insect parts, as well as some animal prey (1.2%).

At the zoo they are fed various fruits, seeds, leaves and flowers.

Behavior:Spider Monkeys are social creatures living in medium size groups. Individual spider monkeys dwell by themselves, but in close proximity to their medium sized group.  However, there is a close association between the mother and the offspring. This relationship evolved as a response to their feeding patterns. Living in large groups is not favored in Spider Monkeys since the major component of their diet, seeds, has variable abundance depending mainly on the season. When seeds are abundant, Spider Monkeys will live in large groups because food sources are not scarce.

In the large scheme of things, females have a more leading role than the males do. They are often the ones to lead the group on foraging routes. In addition, the females are better at finding more varied food routes than the males, which enable them to increase the variety of their diet.

Spider monkeys are diurnal, and therefore are awake during the day and asleep at night. They sleep high in trees, generally above the canopy in order to avoid predators. This provides them the advantage of scaring predators away (with ‘barks’) or retreat into subgroups and run rather than fighting them back. Moreover, aggression is rare, although it is important to note that adult males are still ranked.

Due to the lack of a completely developed thumb, their grooming pattern is different from that of other monkeys and it only happens between mothers and their offspring.

Breeding:Males sexually mature at the age of 5, while females are mature at 4 years old. They have no regular breeding season (they breed all year round). Gestation lasts for 226 to 232 days and one baby is born at a time with births occurring in 2 to 4 year intervals. The babies are born black colored and do not acquire the adult coloration until they are in the sub-adult stage (after nursing has finished).

The infant is continuously carried by the mother hanging to the mother’s ventrum until five months of age. After they tend to be transported in the mother’s back, but continue to be nursed by their mother until they are two years old, which is when the sub-adult period starts. Female sub-adults tend to stay with the mother, while male sub-adults do not form prolonged associations with their mothers.

Adaptations:They lack an opposable and completely developed thumb, which is not a less evolved trait, but rather a result of their environmental adaptation. This is due to the fact that they are accustomed to travel from tree to tree in their arboreal surroundings and the thumb is not highly needed (they have a shrunken thumb).

Also, they have a developed tail with a patch of skin with a pattern of lines that resembles a fingerprint that allows them to have a stronger grip (due to the similarity to the fingers in the hand).

Conservation:According to the IUCN, the spider monkey was previously assessed as endangered, but has now been reassessed as a ‘critically endangered’ species. They are endangered due to the fact that they are losing their habitat to farming and being used as a food source for humans. This species is tolerant of some logging; however it depends on large areas of tall forests to survive. When they are hunted for food their large group numbers and noisy habits makes them an easy target, which causes them to be almost extinct from most accessible areas. The entire world population is estimated to be 2,000 in isolated packets.





Atkins, P. W. (2003). Galileo's Finger. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newland K. 1994. 1994 North American regional studbook for South American spider monkeys Ateles belzebuth, A. fusciceps, A. paniscus - all subspecies. Wichita (KS): Sedgwick County Zoo. 121 p.

Kinzey, W.G. (1997). New World Primates, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.