Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 29 – Brown Spider Monkey

Spider monkey by Diane Duque

Photo: Diane Duque

Gangling limbs,  which drag along the ground,  a prehensile tail,  hook-like hands and no thumbs  –  these are just a few of the bizarre characteristics of the brown spider monkey. Oh!… and it just happens to be one the rarest monkeys on the planet.  Spider monkeys are also the largest amongst the New World monkeys  –  the name  ‘spider’ being inspired by their extraordinarily ill-proportioned,  elongated limbs.

Their tails  (sometimes longer than their bodies),  which allow them to move gracefully through the branches with consummate ease,  have hairless,  tensile tips with fine grooves to aid gripping.  The tail could almost be a fifth limb.  They are extremely agile, very quick and capable of moving across the trees 40 feet at a time.  Rarely touching the forest floor,  they swing down by their tails and gather food  –  hands free!

They have small domed heads with hairless faces,  topped with a patch of white fur. Their bodies are covered in brown to black fur on top, with a paler underside.  Although,  most have brown eyes,  some have been spotted with piercing pale-blue eyes.

Brown spider monkeys have a whole cornucopia of sounds at their disposal.  They screech,  roar,  squeal and grunt,  whinny,  whoop and wail.  These noises serve to communicate on a daily basis.  Some sounds are specific warnings of predators nearing. They live in groups of anything between 6 and 40.  There tend to be more females than males in these groups.  Infants,  when born  (gestation period 7 to 8 months)  cling to the mother’s underside until they are able to hold on atop.

They live in the upper levels of the rainforest,  spending most,  but not all,  of their time in the canopy. They do use the middle and lower strata,  but rarely alight to the understorey.
North-western South America,  between Venezuela and Colombia.
What they eat
A wide variety of fruits.  When less fruits are available they eat young leaves,  seeds, flowers,  bark and decaying wood,  and even honey.  The occasional insect is also enjoyed.
Habitat loss as a result of human incursion and land conversion.  Due to their large size,  it is thought puma and jaguar are their only significant natural predators.  However,  babies and juveniles are occasionally snatched by eagles and smaller carnivores.
Notwithstanding,  poaching is their biggest threat.  They are hunted for both food and the commercial market.  They are large and visible making them easy targets.  In the illegal pet trade,  mothers are killed and babies taken to be sold to the highest bidder.

Status: Critically Endangered
In 2006 brown spider monkeys  (Ateles hybridus)  were placed on the world’s Twenty Five Most Endangered Primates list.  Their numbers are still continuing to decrease. Unfortunately,  their reproductive cycle is slow,  making it  difficult for them to re-populate efficiently.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed them on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.  Guerilla activity,  in some parts,  is hampering the progress of conservation efforts.

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals”
Immanuel Kant



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