Spider Monkey Facts

Scientific Name: Genus Ateles

Long-haired spider monkey
Long-haired spider monkey.

JackF / Getty Images

Spider monkeys are New World monkeys belonging to the genus Ateles. They have long limbs and prehensile tails, giving them the appearance of large arboreal spiders. The name Ateles comes from the Greek word atéleia, which means "incomplete" and refers to the spider monkey's lack of thumbs.

Fast Facts: Spider Monkey

  • Scientific Name: Ateles sp.
  • Common Name: Spider monkey
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 14-26 inch body; up to 35 inch tail
  • Weight:13-24 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20-27 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Central and South American rain forests
  • Population: Decreasing
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable to Critically Endangered

Species

There are seven species and seven subspecies of spider monkey. The species are the red-faced spider monkey, white-fronted spider monkey, Peruvian spider monkey, brown (variegated) spider monkey, white-cheeked spider monkey, brown-headed spider monkey, and Geoffroy's spider monkey. Spider monkeys are closely related to woolly monkeys and howler monkeys.

Description

Spider monkeys have extremely long limbs and prehensile tails. The tails have hairless tips and grooves resembling fingerprints. The monkeys have small heads with hairless faces and wide-set nostrils. Their hands are narrow with long, curved fingers and reduced or non-existent thumbs. Depending on the species, hair color may be white, gold, brown, or black. The hands and feet are usually black. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. Spider monkeys range from 14 to 26 inches in body length with a tail up to 35 inches in length. On average, they weigh anywhere from 13 to 24 pounds.

Habitat and Distribution

Spider monkeys spend their lives in trees of tropical rain forests in Central and South America. Their habitat ranges from southern Mexico to Brazil.

Map of spider monkey distribution
Spider monkeys live in Central and South America. Jackhynes / Wikimedia Commons

Diet

Most of the spider monkey's diet consists of fruit. However, when fruit is scarce, they eat flowers, leaves, and insects. The lead female within a group organizes foraging. If food is abundant, the group feeds together, but it will split if resources are scarce. Most feeding occurs in the early morning hours, but spider monkeys feed throughout the day and sleep in trees at night.

Behavior

The average spider monkey group ranges from 15 to 25 individuals. The closest bonds are between females and their offspring. Males also group together. Unlike most primate species, it is the females rather than the males that disperse at puberty and join new groups.

Spider monkeys are highly intelligent. They communicate using vocalizations, scent marking with urine and feces, and body postures.

Reproduction and Offspring

The female spider monkey selects her mate from within her social group. Gestation lasts between 226 to 232 days, usually resulting in a single offspring, but sometimes twins. The female has sole care of her young, which she carries with her as she forages. Her offspring tightly wraps its tail around its mother's midsection or tail.

Spider monkeys reach sexual maturity between 4 and 5 years of age. Females only bear offspring once every three or four years. Young males sometimes commit infanticide within their group to increase their chance of mating. In the wild, spider monkeys may live 20 to 27 years.They may live over 40 years in captivity.

Geoffroy's spider monkey
Geoffroy's spider monkey with young. Mark Newman / Getty Images

Conservation Status

All spider monkey populations are decreasing. The IUCN classifies the conservation status of the Guiana spider monkey (Ateles paniscus) as vulnerable. Four species are endangered. The variegated spider monkey (Ateles hybridus) and brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) are critically endangered.

Spider Monkeys and Humans

Humans are the main threat to spider monkey survival. The monkeys are widely hunted as food and suffer from habitat loss due to deforestation. Some populations live in protected areas.

Spider monkeys are susceptible to malaria and are used as research animals in studies of the disease.

Sources

  • Cuarón, A.D., Morales, A., Shedden, A., Rodriguez-Luna, E., de Grammont, P.C.; Cortés-Ortiz, L. Ateles geoffroyi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T2279A9387270. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T2279A9387270.en
  • Groves, C.P. in Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.
  • Kinzey, W. G. New world primates: ecology, evolution, and behavior. Aldine Transaction, 1997. ISBN 978-0-202-01186-8.
  • Mittermeier, R.A. "Locomotion and Posture in Ateles geoffroyi and Ateles paniscus." Folia Primatologica. 30 (3): 161–193, 1978. doi:10.1159/000155862
  • Mittermeier, R.A., Rylands, A.B.; Boubli, J. Ateles paniscus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T2283A17929494.