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 Mammals of Ecuador




New World Monkeys  


belong to the group of Primates and make up two families, the Callitricidae, the marmosets and tamarins and the Cebidae, which represents woolly, spider, howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys among others. As member of the primates, the American monkeys have separate fingers with opposing thumbs, binocular vision, large brains and live in complex social groups. The New World Monkeys are furthermore all arboreal  and feed mostly on fruits, seeds and insects. In the Amazon monkeys are still fairly common but on the populous coast they became rare because of habitat destruction, tropical forests yielding to agricultural enterprises.


Pygmy Marmoset, Yarina Lodge

Pygmy Marmosets are very small and shy animals living in trees near flooded areas or streams. They only occupy certain species of trees and like to feed (as do all other marmosets) on tree exudates. To get to the tree sap or resins, they bite small and shallow holes into the bark and visit then the trees in following days to feast on the exudates which gather in the bark wounds. They further supplement their diet with insects and occasionally fruits and nectar.

Marmosets and Tamarins make up the family of Callitricidae and possess distinct features, which separate them from the other monkeys, the larger Cebidae. Apart from their smaller size, they have long but non-prehensile tails, limbs with claws instead of nails and faces covered with a variety of long hairs.


Spider Monkey is one of the largest monkeys found in Ecuador. There exist 4 species of spider monkeys on the American continent with two of them found in the country, the brown-headed one in coastal regions and the white-bellied kind in the Amazon jungle. Spider monkeys got their name from their acrobatic leaps, stretching spider-like while jumping from branches to branches, often catching themselves with their long and prehensile tails, which is used like an extra 5th limb. They are social animals living in large bands of 20 divided in subgroups of 4 to 5 individuals, which gather fruits and eat together. They are diurnal animals living in the high crowns of the tropical trees, rarely coming to the bottom of the forest. As with many monkeys the dominant males have more than one female companion, which has one child every 4 to 5 years. After a pregnancy of 7 months, the child stay with its mother, riding on her back till it knows how to survive on its own. Spider Monkeys were and are still hunted for their delicious meat by Amazonian Indians, being for the natives an invaluable source of proteins. They are also kept as pets. But the major threat to their survival is the ongoing deforestation of the tropical forests. That is the main reason why the brown-headed spider monkey is almost extinct, surviving barely in some small patches left of the coastal tropical forests. The white-bellied one is under pressure too but can still be found in sufficient numbers in remote and unpopulated regions of the Amazonian jungle. That is also true for all other monkey species.


Squirrel monkeys and monkeys in general are very poor swimmers and therefore they often cross rivers by jumping from one side to the other. The dominant male of the troop chooses a high tree at the edge of the river and jumps from there to another lower tree branch on the other side. All other members of the troop then follow him by jumping precisely the same route. Once airborne they stretch out all their limbs to have more air updraft.


Capuchin Monkeys are maybe the best known American monkeys. They are those poor creatures of Hollywood fame shown in old movies grinding away on an organ and earning thus its keep. In the wild of South American tropical forests there exist four species with three of them occurring in Ecuador. The most common ones are the White-fronted Capuchin Monkeys which live on either side of the Andes to an altitude of up to 2000m. Those in the video were filmed in the Podocarpus National Park. Capuchins live in highly structured communities of up to 30 members with a dominant male on top. They feed mostly on arthropods which they find in the tree branches. 


There exist 2 species of Woolly Monkeys on the American continent with one of them the Common Woolly Monkey found in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It got its name from its thick and dense fur, which is yellowish-gray to blackish-brown. It has a big head with an almost hairless dark brown face, a strong prehensile tail and a protruding abdomen. Like all monkeys they are also social animals living in troops of 7 to 70 individuals and often mix with other related primates like the howler, capuchin or spider monkeys. They are diurnal, moving slowly among trees, eating mostly fruits but also seeds, insects and leaves. On the ground they are known to walk upright. After a gestation period of 5 months a single young is born, which is taken care by the mother till it becomes independent enough to be on its own. Young Woolly Monkeys or chorongos, which is their common Ecuadorian name, are caught to be sold as pets. Their mothers are often killed in the process as they do not give up their babies without a fight. But the major threat to their survival is the ongoing deforestation of the tropical forests. Nowadays they only can be found in large numbers in remote and unpopulated regions of the Amazonian jungle.

Howler Monkeys are the most widely distributed monkeys on the American continent, ranging in diverse forest habitats in Central and South America with six species existing. In Ecuador exist two species of howler monkey, the Black Howler Monkey on the Pacific side of the tropics whereas in the Amazon rainforest you encounter the Red Howler Monkey (pictures to the right taken in Paρacocha). They feed mostly on leaves but also take fruits and flowers. They can survive on leaves poor in nutrients and sugars and are therefore suited to many more habitats than other monkey species. One of their most important characteristic is their roar, which can be heard from some two kilometers away and is one of  the loudest sound produced by any land animal. Special vocal adaptations let them achieve that and hearing their roar is for many people an unforgettable acoustic experience. For other monkeys it is an acoustic show of territoriality.

 Natural History

Probably one ancestor monkey specie (instead of several different ones) arrived from Africa on the South American continent at around 25 to 40 million years ago. At that time South America was already an island continent and those founder monkeys could have arrived by island hopping or on vegetation rafts (as SA was still much closer to Africa or by way of North America by the same means). They evolved then in isolation and radiated into the many species which are presently known. The New World or platyrrhine monkeys differ from the living Old world or catyrrhine monkeys in several aspects. Their faces are flatter with shorter muzzles and their noses are much wider with the nostrils pointing to the side (and not downwards). They all are arboreal and have long prehensile tails which are used as a fifth limb (with the exception of some species) and aid enormously in climbing. 

If a monkey can hang from its tail,
it is a New World Monkey.

 Ecuadorian Monkey Species
Pygmy Marmoset Cebuella pygmaea Amazon
Saddleback Tamarin Saguinus fuscicollis Amazon
Black-mantle Tamarin Saguinus nigricollis Amazon
Golden-mantle Tamarin Saguinus tripartitus Amazon
Black Howler Monkey Alouatta palliata Coast
Red Howler Monkey Alouatta seniculus Amazon
Subtropical Night Monkey Aotus lemurinus Amazon
Tropical Night Monkey Aotus vociferans Amazon
White-bellied Spider Monkey Ateles belzebuth Amazon
Brown-headed Spider Monkey Ateles fusiceps Coast
Red or Dusky Titi Monkey Callicebus cupreus Amazon
Black or Yellow-handed Titi Monkey Callicebus torquatus Amazon
White-fronted Capuchin Monkey Cebus albifrons Amazon
& Coast
Brown Capuchin Monkey Cebus apella Amazon
White-throated Capuchin Monkey Cebus capucinus Coast
Common Woolly Monkey Lagothrix lagotricha Amazon
Equatorial Saki Monkey Pithecia aequatorialis Amazon
Common or Monk Saki Monkey Pithecia monachus Amazon
Common Squirrel Monkey Saimiri sciureus Amazon
 Mammal Vocabulary

Niche: place occupied by a species in its ecosystem.

Adaptive radiation: evolution of a single specie into many species that ocupy diverse ways of life within the same geographical area.

Evolutionary convergence: the increasing similarity during evolution of two or more unrelated species occupying the same niche by products of different adaptive radiations.


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