Prehensile tailed monkeys are the largest of the New World Monkeys. There are 24 species in the family Atelidae, including 10 species of howler monkeys (Alouatta), 7 spider monkeys (Ateles), 2 muriquis (Brachyteles), 4 woolly monkeys (Lagothrix), and 1 yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax). All atelids have prehensile tails that are sensitive and used for grasping objects.
Prehensile tailed monkeys are found in Central and South America. The howler monkeys (Alouatta) are the most widespread New World monkey genus, occurring from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. Spider monkeys (Ateles) are also fairly widespread, occurring from southern Mexico through the Amazon basin. Woolly monkeys (Lagothrix) are found only in the Amazon. Muriquis (Brachyteles) are restricted to the southeastern Atlantic rainforest of Brazil and yellow-tailed woolly monkeys (Oreonax) are found only in the cloud forests of a portion of the Peruvian Andes.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- Strier, K. 2004. "Howler Monkeys and Spider Monkeys (Atelidae)". Pp. 155-169 in M Hutchins, D Thoney, M McDade, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 14. Detroit, Michigan: Thomson Gale.
Prehensile tailed monkeys are the largest of the New World monkeys. Species range from 382 to 686 mm head and body length in the Atelinae and from 559 to 915 mm head and body length in the howler monkeys (Alouattinae). Atelinae tail length ranges from 508 to 890 mm and weight from 5.5 to 15 kg. Alouattinae tail length ranges from 585 to 915 mm and weight from 4 to 12 kg. Males are substantially larger than females in howler monkeys (Alouatta) and woolly monkeys (Lagothrix), sexes are similar in size in other genera. Dental formula is I 2/2; C1/1; P 3/3; M 3/3.
Prehensile tailed monkeys are from pale buff or gray (Brachyteles) to dark black (Ateles) in pelage color. Males and females differ in color in some species of howler monkeys. Prehensile tailed monkeys tend to have long limbs, fingers, and tails. This is especially pronounced in spider monkeys and muriquis, where it is associated with brachiation and suspensory locomotion. Woolly monkeys and howler monkeys have more compact bodies and are not as fast and agile as are spider monkeys and muriquis. Female Ateles and Brachyteles have pendulous clitorises. Howler monkeys have a greatly enlarged hyoid bone which is used to help project their very loud roaring vocalizations. They also have an enlarged hindgut.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently
All prehensile tailed monkeys are highly arboreal and found exclusively in forests. Some species, such as woolly monkeys (Lagothrix) and some spider monkeys (Ateles) are found only in primary forests but most species also occur in secondary or disturbed forests.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Prehensile tailed monkeys are primarily frugivorous, although they also consume variable quantities of leaves, flowers, nectar, plant gums, new shoots, and insects. Howler monkeys (Alouatta) are the most folivorous of the prehensile tailed monkeys. Diet varies geographically and seasonally, though, with more fruits consumed when available and leaves becoming a more important part of the diet in parts of the year where fruits are less available and in disturbed forests. Prehensile tailed monkeys use their tails extensively. Individuals often feed while suspended, hanging from their tail.
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore )
Prehensile tailed monkeys aid in the dispersal of forest trees through their frugivory.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
There are few reported predators of prehensile tailed monkeys. They are at risk of predation from arboreal predators, such as large snakes and felids. Large, diurnal raptors may also take these monkeys from forest canopies.
Life History and Behavior
All species use vocalizations to communicate, but howler monkeys are best known for their powerful, long-distance roars. Male howler monkeys roar most often at the boundaries of their home ranges and can be heard by humans up to 2 kilometers away. Some species are also known to apply urine to their hands and feet, depositing scent as they move.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: choruses
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
A captive woolly monkey lived for nearly 25 years, a captive spider monkey lived for 48 years, and a captive howler monkey for more than 23 years. Wild howler monkeys live for over 20 years, with an average of 16 years.
Female prehensile tailed monkeys mate with multiple male partners. Depending on the composition of social groups, dominant males may effectively monopolize matings with group females.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Births generally occur in dry seasons, when preferred foods are scarce. Conception and weaning usually occurs during wet seasons, when food is plentiful. Gestation length is from 6 to 7.2 months and usually 1 young is born, twins are rare. Interbirth intervals are from 2 years in Alouatta to 3 years in the ateline genera. Females become sexually mature at from 4 (Alouatta) to 9 years old (Brachyteles).
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
There is no evidence of male parental care in prehensile tailed monkeys. Females care for and nurse their young.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:21
Specimens with Barcodes:19
Species With Barcodes:8
Both Brachyteles species, Oreonax flavicauda, 3 species of Alouatta, and 2 subspecies of Ateles geoffroyi are on Appendix I of CITES. Alouatta pigra, Ateles marginatus, and Brachyteles arachnoides are considered endangered by the IUCN. Ateles hybridus, Brachyteles hypoxanthus, and Oreonax flavicauda are considered critically endangered. The muriquis (Brachyteles) are the only New World monkeys restricted to the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, making them especially vulnerable. Brachyteles hypoxanthus populations are estimated at around 500 individuals. Oreonax flavicauda populations, restricted to a small area of the Peruvian Andes, are estimated at 200 individuals.
- International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007. "2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed November 16, 2007 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Although large and frugivorous, none of the atelids are considered agricultural pests.
Prehensile tailed monkeys are important in many Central and South American cultures. They are featured in myths and legends and some body parts are thought to have special powers. Their large body size makes many prehensile tailed monkeys a desirable source of meat and the docility of some species makes them popular as pets. Prehensile tailed monkeys are fascinating and ubiquitous components of neotropical forests, making them important for ecotourism.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism
Atelidae is one of the five families of New World monkeys now recognised. It was formerly included in the family Cebidae. Atelids are generally larger monkeys; the family includes the howler, spider, woolly and woolly spider monkeys (the latter being the largest of the New World monkeys). They are found throughout the forested regions of Central and South America, from Mexico to northern Argentina.
Atelid monkeys are small to moderate in size, ranging from 34 to 72 cm in head-body length, with the howler monkeys being the largest members of the group, and the spider monkeys being the smallest. They have long prehensile tails with a sensitive, almost hairless, tactile pad on the underside of the distal part. The tail is frequently used as 'fifth limb' while moving through the trees where they make their homes. They also have nails on their fingers and toes, enabling them to climb. Most species have predominantly dark brown, grey, or black fur, often with paler markings.
These are arboreal and diurnal animals, with most species restricted to dense rain forest, although some howler monkey species are found in drier forests, or wooded savannah. They mainly eat fruit and leaves, although the smaller species, in particular, may also eat some small insects. They have the dental formula: 184.108.40.206
Females give birth to a single infant (or, rarely, twins) after a gestation period of 180 to 225 days. In most species, individuals give birth every one to three years, and there is little, if any, seasonal peak in the number of births.
Atelid monkeys are typically polygamous, and live in social groups with anything up to twenty five adults, depending on species. Where groups are relatively small, as is common amongst the howler monkeys, a single male monopolises a 'harem' of females, but larger groups will contain several males, with a clear hierarchy of dominance.
- Subfamily Alouattinae
- Genus Alouatta, howler monkeys
- Alouatta palliata group
- Alouatta seniculus group
- Ursine howler, Alouatta arctoidea
- Red-handed howler, Alouatta belzebul
- Spix's red-handed howler, Alouatta discolor
- Brown howler, Alouatta guariba
- Juruá red howler, Alouatta juara
- Guyanan red howler, Alouatta macconnelli
- Amazon black howler, Alouatta nigerrima
- Purus red howler, Alouatta puruensis
- Bolivian red howler, Alouatta sara
- Venezuelan red howler, Alouatta seniculus
- Maranhão red-handed howler, Alouatta ululata
- Alouatta caraya group
- Black howler, Alouatta caraya
- Genus Alouatta, howler monkeys
- Subfamily Atelinae
- Genus Ateles, spider monkeys
- Genus Brachyteles, muriquis (woolly spider monkeys)
- Genus Lagothrix, woolly monkeys
- Genus Oreonax
- Yellow-tailed woolly monkey, Oreonax flavicauda
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