Capuchin Monkey

Em Dee

bullet The capuchins are a group of new world monkeys.  They are classified as the genus "Cebus".  Their name "Capuchin" comes form their coloration, which resembles the cowls worn by the capuchin order of Roman Catholic monks.  Cebus is the only genus in the subfamily, "Cebinae".  Cebinae includes squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, wooley monkeys and wooley spider monkeys.


bullet Capuchins (Cebus) consist of four species: C. apella (brown or tufted), C. albifrons (brown pale fronted), C. olivaceus (weeping or wedge capped) and C. capuchinus (white faced capuchins).


bullet The capuchin's range includes Central America (Honduras) and middle South America (Brazil, eastern Peru and Paraguay).  The white faced capuchin is native to Central America and the other capuchin species are native to South America.


bullet Capuchins generally resemble the monks of their namesake.  Their body, arms, legs and tail are all either black or brown, while the face throat and chest are white and their head has a black cap.  The general pattern varies from species to species as well as among individuals within a species.  They reach a length of 30 to 56 cm with tails that are as long as their body.  They weigh up to 1.3 kg.


bullet Like most New World monkeys, capuchins are diurnal and arboreal.  This means that with the exception of a midday nap, they spend their entire day searching for food and hanging out in trees.  At night they sleep in trees wedged between branches.  Capuchins are adaptable in regard to their habitat and they can be found in many differing areas.  Among the natural enemies of the capuchins are large falcons, cats, snakes and of course, humans.


bullet The diet of capuchins are more varied than other monkeys in the family Cebidae.  They are omnivores, eating fruits, nuts, seeds, buds in addition to insects, spiders, bird eggs and small vertebrate.  Capuchins living near water will also eat crabs by cracking their shells with stones.


bullet Easily recognized as the "organ grinder" monkeys, capuchins are also kept as pets, although Felids and Friends does not recommend having one as a pet.  Capuchins are sometimes considered to be troublesome near human populations because they may plunder crops in fields.  In some regions, capuchins have become rare due to the destruction of their habitat.


bullet Capuchins live together in groups of six to forty members.  These groups consist of related females and their offspring, as well as several males.  Usually, groups are dominated by a single male who has primary rights to mate with  females of the group.


bullet  Mutual grooming as well as vocalization serves as communication and stabilization of the group dynamics.  These primates are territorial animals, distinctly marking a central area of their territory with urine and defending it against intruders.


bullet Females bear young every two years following a 160 to 180 day gestation.  The young cling to their mother's chest.  When they have matured somewhat, they move to her back.  Adult male capuchins rarely take part in caring for the young.  Maturity is four years for females and eight years for males.  In captivity, individuals have lived for up to an age of 45 years, although life expectancy in nature is from 15 to 25 years.


bullet Capuchins are considered the most intelligent of the New World monkeys and are often used in laboratories.  The Tufted Capuchin is especially noted for its long term tool usage, one of the few examples of primate tool use other than by apes.  For instance, capuchins watch macaws eating fruits and nuts.  These birds crack hard fruits open with their beaks.  The capuchins collect a few of the ripest fruits, nip off the tip of the fruit and drink down the juice, then seemingly discard the rest of the fruit with the nut inside.  When these discarded fruits have hardened and become slightly brittle, the capuchins will gather them up again and take them to a large flat boulder.  There they will then use stones, (some of the stones may weigh as much as the monkeys themselves) and crack open the fruit to get to the nut inside.  Young capuchins will watch this process to learn from the older, more experienced adults. 


bullet During the mosquito season, capuchins crush up millipedes and rub the remains on their backs.  This acts as a natural bug repellent.


Self Awareness

When capuchins see their reflection, they react in a way that indicates an intermediate state between seeing the mirror as another individual and recognizing the image as self.

For example, most animals react to seeing their reflection as if encountering another individual they don't recognize.  An experiment with capuchins shows that they react to a reflection as a strange phenomenon, but mot as if seeing a strange capuchin.

In the experiment, capuchins were presented with three different scenarios:

  1.         Seeing an unfamiliar, same sex monkey on the other side of a clear barrier.
  2.         Seeing a familiar, same sex monkey on the other side of a clear barrier
  3.         A mirror showing a reflection of the monkey

With scenario one, females appeared anxious and avoided eye contact.  Males made threatening gestures.  In scenario two, there was little reaction by either males or females.

When presented with a reflection, females gazed into their own eyes and made friendly gestures such as lip smacking and swaying,  Males made more eye contact than with strangers or familiar monkeys but reacted with signs of confusion or distress from the test room. (de Waal, et al.,2005)

In a Nutshell

Class                                         Mammalia

Order                                        Primates

Family                                       Cebidae

Species                                      Cebus Albifrons

Male body length                     1.4 feet

Female body length                 1.3 feet

Male weight                             6.1 pounds

Female weight                          5.9 pounds  

Home range size                       200 acres

Offspring per conception         1 

Gestation period                        160 to 180 days

Time to sexual maturity            4 years for female and 6 years for a male.