What kinds of monkeys live in Central America?
If you find yourself visiting Central America, it’s only natural that you will ask yourself the above question. I mean, who doesn’t want to see monkeys!?
Luckily, there are a few species that you should be able to find. Keep reading to learn how to identify each primate and learn some fun and interesting facts. Pictures and range maps are also included!
9 monkey species that live in Central America:
#1. Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey
- Ateles geoffroyi
Also called Central American, Hooded, Nicaraguan, Mexican, Ornate, Yucatan, or Black-handed Spider Monkey.
- Body length measures between 30 and 63 cm (12 and 25 in). Weighs between 6 and 9 kg (13 and 20 lb). The tail is longer than the body at between 63 and 85 cm (25 and 33.5 in).
- Coloration varies by population and subspecies. They can be light-brownish yellow, black, reddish, or black.
- The face usually has a pale mask and bare skin around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Look for Geoffroy’s Monkeys in Central America in various types of forests, including rainforests, mangroves, and especially evergreen forests. These relatively large monkeys are among the most agile primates, and it’s common to see them hanging by just one of their long limbs or their incredibly strong prehensile tail. In addition to helping them climb, the tail also assists in scooping up fruit and water, acting like a fifth limb.
Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey Range Map
It’s rare to see just one Geoffroy’s Monkey, as they live in large groups that typically number between 20-40 individuals, although they do split into smaller groups during the day to forage.
Since their diet consists mainly of fruit, this species must be able to memorize and identify many different types of foods and locations. To remember all this information, spider monkeys have evolved a very intelligent brain. If fact, a 2007 study found they were the THIRD most intelligent nonhuman primate, behind only chimpanzees and orangutans, which means they are ahead of gorillas!
Unfortunately, Geoffroy’s Monkeys are listed as endangered. This is because they require large tracts of forest to thrive, so they are particularly sensitive to habitat loss and deforestation. In addition, they are also captured by humans to be sold as pets.
#2. White-faced Capuchin
- Cebus imitator
Also called the Central American White-faced Capuchin or Panamanian White-faced Capuchin.
- Has mostly black fur, with white to yellowish fur on the neck, throat, chest, shoulders, and upper arms.
- The face is pink or a white-cream color. The black hair on their crown is a distinctive trait.
- A prehensile tail that is often held coiled, giving them the nickname “ringtail.”
The White-faced Capuchin is easily the most recognizable monkey in Central America!
These primates are incredibly smart and easily trained, so it’s no surprise they have been used in many movies. You may recognize these monkeys from the Pirates of the Caribbean films or as Marcel from the series Friends. In addition to being on TV, White-faced Capuchins have been taught to perform practical tasks, such as assisting paraplegic persons with certain activities.
In the wild, these monkeys use their intelligence by making tools! For example, they use sticks to protect themselves from snakes. Or they have been observed smashing fruit and invertebrates with rocks to help eat them. I enjoy the fact that they rub many different types of plants into their hair, which is thought to help serve as a natural insecticide against insects and ticks.
White-faced Capuchin Range Map
Depending on which authority you are consulting, there may be TWO different species of White-faced Capuchins in Central America.
- First, there is the Panamanian White-faced Capuchin (Cebus imitator), which inhabits most of Central America, including western Panama.
- Next, there is the Colombian White-faced Capuchin (Cebus capucinus), which inhabits eastern Panama, eastern Colombia, and northwest Ecuador.
The reason that you see these species split is because of a study performed in 2012 that argued these two populations split up about 2 million years ago. Regardless, both the Panamanian and Colombian White-faced Capuchins look identical and share almost the same behaviors, which is why many people just call them “White-faced Capuchins.”
#3. Mantled Howler Monkey
- Alouatta palliata
- They are primarily black except for a fringe of yellow or golden brown hairs on the flanks of the body, which is how they earned the name “mantled.”
- Adult females weigh between 3.1 and 7.6 kg (6 and 16 lb), while males typically weigh between 4.5 and 9.8 kg (10 lb and 22 lb).
It’s common to both see and HEAR these monkeys in Central America!
Mantled Howler Monkeys are famous for their incredibly loud calls, which are enhanced by an enlarged hyoid bone in their vocal cords. Howling allows these primates to locate each other more easily in dense forests without expending so much energy. Believe it or not, their noises can be heard from several kilometers away!
Mantled Howler Monkey Range Map
Energy conservation is important to Mantled Howler Monkeys since their diet primarily consists of leaves, which don’t provide much energy. As a result, they are much less active than other monkey species and spend roughly 75% of the day resting, in addition to sleeping all night.
Mantled Howler Monkeys are not as vulnerable to forest fragmentation as other primates. Their low-energy lifestyle means they have smaller home ranges and don’t need to travel as far as other species to forage. They can also use a wide variety of food sources, such as fruits and leaves from many different types of trees.
#4. Yucatán Black Howler Monkey
- Alouatta pigra
Also called the Guatemalan Black Howler.
- Both males and females have long, black hair and a prehensile tail. Note that infants have brown fur.
- The body is between 52 and 64 cm (20.5 and 25.2 in) in length, excluding the tail.
- The tail is between 59 and 69 cm (23 and 27 in) long.
This species is the LARGEST monkey in Central America!
On average, males average around 11.4 kg (25 lb), while females tip the scales at 6.4 kg (14 lb)! And as the name suggests, they are only found in forested areas in and near the Yucatán peninsula.
Yucatán Black Howler Monkey Range Map
Yucatán Black Howlers mainly eat leaves, and their teeth are perfectly adapted to breaking down foliage to digest. But unfortunately, leaves don’t provide much energy, which is why they spend most of the day resting. 🙂
Howler monkeys are BEST known for their extremely loud vocalizations! LISTEN BELOW.
Unfortunately, Yucatán Black Howler Monkeys are endangered, and their population is expected to keep declining. Their main threats include habitat loss due to deforestation, hunting, and being captured to be sold as pets.
#5. Central American Squirrel Monkey
- Saimiri oerstedii
Also called the Red-backed Squirrel Monkey.
- A small monkey with a distinctive white and black facial mask.
- An orange back, olive shoulders, hips, tail, and white undersides. The hands and feet are also orange.
- The head has a black cap, and the tail has a black tip.
These monkeys are an endangered species in Central America.
Unfortunately, less than 5,000 Central American Squirrel Monkeys are estimated to be left in the wild, down from about 200,000 in the 1970s. Deforestation, hunting, and being captured as pets have all contributed to their steep decline. Nevertheless, significant efforts are underway to preserve the remaining population in both Costa Rica and Panama.
- Do you want to look for birds, spiders, monkeys, and more in Costa Rica? Then check out the 9 BEST Birding Tour Companies in Costa Rica to schedule a trip today!
Central American Squirrel Monkey Range Map
Central American Squirrels monkeys are selective when it comes to habitat. They are only found in lowland forests along the Pacific coast and require areas that have lots of low to mid-level vegetation. They have difficulty surviving in tall, mature forests. The best places to see them are Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica and the northwestern tip of Panama.
#6. Geoffroy’s Tamarin
- Saguinus geoffroyi
Also called the Panamanian, Red-crested or Rufous-naped Tamarin.
- Small monkeys, with a length of between 22.5 and 24 cm (8.9 and 9.4 in), excluding the tail.
- The fur on its back is reddish-brown with white on its undersides.
- Its face is nearly bare, but the head has reddish fur with a triangle-shaped patch in the front of the head.
The best places to find these monkeys in Central America are in secondary forests with moderate humidity. Look for them in central and eastern Panama, with their range extending slightly west of the Panama Canal. They are found on the Atlantic coast, but only in areas near the canal that have been modified by humans.
Geoffroy’s Tamarin Range Map
Geoffroy’s Tamarins have a sweet tooth! In addition to eating insects, fruits, and other plant parts, they also eat tree sap. But since their teeth are not adapted to gouging trees, they can’t eat this sugary treat on demand. Instead, they must wait for when the sap runs naturally or another animal taps the tree.
The population of these small monkeys is considered “near threatened.” Interestingly, human activity in Panama can have both positive and negative consequences for them. Obviously, complete deforestation, being hunted, and being captured as pets are bad for them. But the cutting of mature forests, which have then been allowed to regrow, has provided additional areas of secondary growth forests, which closely match their preferred habitat.
#7. Panamanian Night Monkey
- Aotus zonalis
Also called the Chocoan Night Monkey.
- Large eyes. Short tail relative to its body size.
- Relatively small, with males weighing approximately 889 grams (31.4 oz) and females weighing about 916 grams (32.3 oz).
- The fur on the back ranges from grayish brown to reddish brown. The belly is yellow.
It can be VERY hard to see these monkeys in Central America!
That’s because, as the name suggests, Panamanian Night Monkeys are NOCTURNAL. Combined with the fact they live in trees, sightings are rare. It’s best to try and observe them with the help of a trained guide who knows where they can be found. Sightings are most common in Panama in the Atlantic lowlands in secondary growth forests or even in coffee plantations.
Panamanian Night Monkey Range Map
Panamanian Night Monkeys are one of the few primates that are monogamous, which means males and females often stay together their entire life! The males even make great fathers and help the females carry the baby around.
#8. Colombian Spider Monkey
- Ateles fusciceps rufiventris
Also called the Black-headed Spider Monkey.
- A black body and long limbs with hands that lack thumbs. There may be a little white hair on their chin.
- Its long prehensile tail has a hairless patch that is used for gripping.
- They can weigh up to 20 lbs (9.1 kg).
Colombian Spider Monkeys ONLY live in eastern Panama and southwest Colombia, living in a variety of different types of forests. They are even found at elevations up to 2,500 meters (8,200 ft) above sea level.
Unfortunately, these monkeys are extremely endangered, and they have lost more than 50% of their population over the past 45 years. Hunting and habitat loss are its two biggest threats.
The Colombian Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps rufiventris) is considered a sub-species of the Black-headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps). But interestingly, some monkey authorities don’t recognize Ateles fusciceps as a separate species but consider it to be a sub-species of Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi). So that makes me ask the question is the Colombian Spider Monkey a sub-species of a sub-species? As you can see, scientific taxonomy isn’t perfect and changes often. 🙂
#9. Stump-tailed Macaque
- Macaca arctoides
This monkey species is NOT native to Central America.
Stump-tailed Macaques originate in southern Asia. But, back in 1974, a small population was released onto Tanaxpillo Island in the middle of Lake Catemaco in Veracruz, Mexico. The reason for this introduction was to study these primates in a natural setting. In fact, most of the information we know about Stump-tailed Macaques comes from this introduced group.
Not only were the experiments considered to be a success, but the primates are also thriving and are now a huge tourist attraction. To visit La Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island), you must take a boat ride from the city of Catemaco. The Stump-tailed Macaques are large, which makes them easy to spot, unlike some of the other native monkeys that live in Mexico.
Do you need additional help identifying monkeys in Central America?
Then check out this field guide!
Mammals of Central America & Southeast Mexico | View Price HERE!
Which of these monkeys have you seen before in Central America?
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