Black Spider Monkey
Black spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus), also called Guiana spider monkeys and red-faced black spider monkeys, live in tropical forests of Suriname, Guyana, French Guinea, and northern Brazil. Elegant and acrobatic, they use their gangly arms, legs and prehensile tails to grasp, jump, climb and glide through the highest reaches of the rainforest—spending most of their time in trees as high as 80 to 100 feet above the ground.
Their heads are small compared to their shaggy black bodies and dominated by dramatic red or pinkish faces. Black spider monkey tails are unique in that they’re strong enough to hold their entire weight (between 12-24 pounds) and can also pick up and manipulate objects.
Behavior and Communication
Spider monkeys form troops of up to 30 monkeys, but during the day typically break-up to travel, eat, and rest in smaller groups. The behavior is called fission-fusion and spider monkeys are the only New World monkeys who do this. In Old World monkeys, chimpanzees also have fission-fusion behavior. It’s likely it’s easier to find enough food while traveling in smaller groups. Females have their own territory within the troop range and mothers travel with their offspring. At dusk, the troop comes back together to sleep near each other.
Throughout the day, the troop communicates by screaming, grunting, whistling, barking, and neighing, which warns off predators and announces food and location. Individuals sometimes greet each other with an embrace and chest sniffing or licking. In Raleighvallen near the Voltzberg, they greeted me with chest scratching, arm swinging, tree shaking, and branch throwing. But they never threw urine or feces—so clearly love at first sight.
Spider monkeys prefer ripe fruit, which they swallow whole—then defecate the intact seeds hours later. This spreads their favorite food trees throughout the rainforest, a mutually beneficial cycle for both tree and monkey. During the dry season, when fruit is scarce, spider moneys eat more leaves and flowers, and occasionally bark and insects.
Black spider monkeys breed with multiple partners. Courtship starts with mutual wrestling and play until the female kicks-off sexual activity by sitting in a male’s lap. Pregnancy lasts a little over seven months and babies are born with dark faces that lighten with age. For the first few months, a baby clings to its mother’s body. By the eighteenth month, juvenile spider monkeys can travel alone, although they usually stay near their mothers until they reach sexual maturity around the age of four or five. At that point, males begin traveling with adult males and females leave their troop.
Their main predators are jaguars, pumas, ocelots, harpy eagles and in recent years humans through hunting and habitat destruction. Spider monkeys have declined by at least 30% over the past 45 years and are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Redlist.
ARKive Images of Life on Earth: Black spider monkey. Watch the fuzzy little baby one first.
- Boinski, S. De Apen van Suriname / The Monkeys of Suriname. 2002. Paramaribo, Suriname: Stichting Natuurbehoud Suriname.
- IUCN Redlist
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web
- Primate Info Net
Featured Ateles paniscus photo has been adapted from the original by Ana Cotta.