The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

Monkeying Around In Costa Rica

White Faced Capuchin Monkey
Costa Rica is famous for birdwatching—there are more birds in Costa Rica than in all of North America, but besides the birds, it is also a great place for “monkey watching.”

In Costa Rica there are four types of monkeys—howler monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and capuchin monkeys, and on many of our California Native trips we see all four.

Of the monkeys in Costa Rica, the squirrel monkey is by far the most colorful, with his orange-gold hands, feet and back, his olive-green shoulders and legs, and his black capped head. He is about a foot in length, not counting his tail, and has an inquisitive little face with large eyes and small ears. He is very bright and, in proportion to his body size, has one of the largest brains of all the monkeys. He lives in the sunlit scrub woodlands, and eats insects, fruit, lizards, eggs, and small birds. He is also a great dad—the male often carrying his baby on his back.

The most intelligent monkey in Costa Rica is the capuchin monkey, who can learn to use sticks as tools to bring food into reach. This is the monkey we think of as the organ grinder's monkey. The monkey's hair forms a peak on its head, reminiscent of the cowls of the Capuchin Friars, after whom it is named. Troops of these monkeys may number thirty or forty, and they often travel in single file through the trees. They feed mainly on fruit, supplemented by insects, birds, and eggs.

The largest, and by far the loudest, of Costa Rica's monkeys is the howler monkey. Howlers are about three feet long, not counting their even longer tails, and weigh up to twenty pounds. Their main claim to fame is their ability to produce a deep roar, which can be heard up to three miles away. The first time I heard a howler was just before dawn when I was awakened by what sounded like the roaring of lions. The startling sound is produced and amplified by a bony “sound box” in the howler's throat. You can hear them just after sundown, before sunrise, and at the approach of rain. Howlers live in family groups of from five to twenty. In the early morning and evening they roam slowly through the tree tops, eating twigs and fruit. During the heat of the afternoon they nap. Howlers breed throughout the year, and the female may have relations with several males, who don't seem to mind sharing her.

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