Monkeys of Costa Rica

Marietta College Biology and Environmental Science Department Field Trip 2005

 

During our trip to Costa Rica we (well, actually, I) saw 3 of the 4 species of monkeys found there.  Dr. David Brown was there for a few more weeks and was able to see all 4 species. This page will tell you a little bit more about each of the monkeys of Costa Rica.

The 4 species of monkeys in Costa Rica are the Mantled Howler (Allouata palliata) (right), the Capuchin Monkey (Cebus capucinus) (below left), the Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffreyi) (below right) and the Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) (below).

Hint: Click on Hyperlinks below pictures to open a larger view in a new window.

Howler Monkey and Baby

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Squirrel  Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Spider Monkey - La Selva

The first monkeys we encountered in Costa Rica were capuchins on the way down to Playa Nancite.  Eladio spotted them and we stopped to watch a troop of them work the canopy of the dry forest.  It was a lot easier to spot them in the dry forest at the end of the dry season as many of the leaves were off the trees; still, as far as photography was concerned the monkeys'  quick movements and the tangle of branches made getting a good shot very difficult.

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

                     

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP        Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

According to John Kricher in "A Neotropical Companion", (page 296), capuchins travel in troops of up to 30.  CH Freese (writing in Costa Rican Natural History, edited by Daniel Janzen) (page 246) says that of the 4 species in the genus Cebus the white-faced capuchin is the only species in Central America.  These are small monkeys, maybe about a meter long including the tail.  They made quite a racket while we were watching them, with individuals of the troop scattered on both sides of the road.  According to Freese, they eat a lot of fruits and insects, although they eat other things as well, including bird eggs, some agricultural crops, and, most interestingly, Freese reports that one individual was observed to grab, break off and eat the end of a large iguana's tail!

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

 
We also saw capuchins at Manuel Antonio, where they proved adept at begging from the tourists along the beach.  Craig Merideth extended his hand to one, which reached back tentatively.  All agreed that the scene was reminiscent of the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but there was much disagreement as to who was God and who was Adam...

 

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Capuchin Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Capuchin Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Capuchins also showed up at Caño Negro; one came to the river to drink (below).

 

Capuchins should have at most of the places we visited, but we simply didn't see them.  Of course, in many places (Rincón de la Vieja, Arenal) we simply weren't there very long.  Also, the heavy canopy in the rainforest at La Selva made wildlife of all types harder to see.

Capuchin Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Capuchin Monkey, Caño Negro

Capuchin Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Next up were the Howler Monkeys.  We saw these at Santa Rosa and Caño Negro; we heard them at La Selva but never saw them there.

Howler Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Howler Monkey, Caño Negro

Howler Monkey, Caño Negro

Howler Monkey, female and baby, Santa Rosa NP

Howler Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

The troop at Santa Rosa was particularly interesting.  They set up camp in a large tree outside the dining hall at the biological station about the same time we arrived, and stayed there the whole time we were there.  There were several troops within earshot and every morning they let each other know where they were by way of their ear-splitting screams.  One member of the group likened it to the growling of a "dog from hell".  They would also sound off in response to various things such as diesel trucks, a description which applies to 75% of the vehicles in Guanacaste.  The group camped out at the dining hall had several males and at least one female with a baby.

Howler Monkey male, Santa Rosa NP

 

Howler Monkey, female and baby, Santa Rosa NP

Howler Monkey, female and baby, Santa Rosa NP

KE Glander, (writing in Costa Rican Natural History, edited by Daniel Janzen) (page 448), points out a surprising aspect of the howlers' social structure - it is the youngest adults that are the dominant members of the group, which can include several males and females, along with the young.  According to Glander they are mostly herbivorous, feeding on leaves, particularly new ones.  

 

Howler Monkey Movies

Howler Monkey in Tree  2.8M

Howler Monkey in Tree - bigger, grainier  3.4M

Howler Monkey in Tree with kitchen sounds  3.0M

Howler Monkey Jumping Between Trees  4.9M

Howler Monkey Call 1 4.1M

Howler Monkey Call 2 5.2M

Howler Monkey Call 3 3.6M

 Howler Monkey Call 4 3.1M

Male Howler Monkey 3.0M

 

Howler Monkey, Santa Rosa NP

        

             

 

Of our group, only David Brown and I saw a  Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffreyi).  In my case, it was by chance on one of my solo trips through La Selva.  Walking along one trail, I came upon a group with a guide who were watching a small group of these monkeys.  I was not able to get much of a photo, however, as they were high up in the canopy.  Later, after an unsuccessful search for the Helicopter Damselfly, I returned to the vicinity of the swamp near the River Station, and I came across what I think was the same group, only closer to the forest floor.  I was able to get a few pictures in the dim understory light.  The monkeys were aware of my presence and seemed to take offense; one individual seemed particularly bold and scolded me from about 10 feet off the ground about 30 feet away.  David Brown saw Spider Monkeys in the same area a day later; presumably it was the same group.

Spider Monkey, Ateles geoffroyi, La Selva

Spider Monkey, Ateles geoffroyi, La Selva

Spider Monkey, Ateles geoffroyi, La Selva

Like all the Costa Rican monkeys, the tail of the Spider Monkey is prehensile, which means it can be used as a fifth limb, holding onto a branch for instance. They also move extensively by brachiation, a form of locomotion in which the animal swings from the front limbs.  In  Costa Rican Natural History, (edited by Daniel Janzen) (page 451), JF Eisenberg comments on the slow natural reproduction of these monkeys, perhaps one reason why they are slow to come back from land clearing and hunting.  Apparently, a troop of Spider Monkeys split up during the day to feed then congregate at night to sleep.  
As I mentioned above, as a group we never saw the 4th species of Tican Monkey, the Squirrell Monkey.  Dr. David Brown stayed on in Costa Rica for a few weeks after the rest of us came home, and he saw a troop of Squirrel Monkeys when he returned to Manuel Antonio. That was probably our only real chance to see them, according to Janzen and Wilson (In  Costa Rican Natural History, (edited by Daniel Janzen), page 427) in Costa Rica the Squirrel Monkey is restricted to the southern Pacific lowlands.  Walker's Mammals of the World (5th edition) lists the species as restricted to Costa Rica and Panama; this small distribution is one reason the species is endangered.  According to Walker's Mammals of the World, squirrel monkeys have the largest troops of new world monkeys, with reports of over 550 individuals per troop, but more commonly 10-30 individuals in a troop.

Squirrel  Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Squirrel  Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP

Squirrel  Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP