Squirrel Monkey Classification and Evolution
The Squirrel Monkey is a small species of New World Monkey that is natively found in the forests and tropical jungles of Central and South America. Measuring as little as 25cm from the top of the head to the base of their tail, these tiny primates are more than double that size when including their long tail. Unlike a number of other small monkey species, the tail of the Squirrel Monkey is not prehensile which means that it cannot be used to grip onto branches. Instead, their long tail is used to help the Squirrel Monkey to balance when climbing about on the high branches. There are five species of Squirrel Monkey found in varying locations which are the Common Squirrel Monkey, the Black-Capped Squirrel Monkey, the Central American Squirrel Monkey, the Golden-Backed Squirrel Monkey and the Black-Headed Squirrel Monkey. All Squirrel Monkey species resemble each other in appearance besides slight variations in fur colour and the region in which they live.
Squirrel Monkey Anatomy and Appearance
Although both male and female Squirrel Monkeys appear to be almost identical in size and appearance, males actually tend to be slightly larger and heavier than their female counterparts. Squirrel Monkeys have very distinctively coloured, short fur which is mostly olive or grey in colour with the exception of their bright yellow legs and white face. The Squirrel Monkey also has a tuft of longer and darker hair on it's forehead and a black or dark brown muzzle. The Squirrel Monkey spends a great deal of time high in the trees and is very well adapted to doing so with incredibly dexterous fingers that are not only great for gripping onto branches, but also come in very useful when opening fruits and holding onto prey. The long tail of the Squirrel Monkey is longer than it's body and is quite slim ending in a dark, bushy tip.
Squirrel Monkey Distribution and Habitat
The five different species of Squirrel Monkey are found distributed throughout Central America and into South America as far as the upper Amazon Basin. Squirrel Monkeys tend to prefer regions of dense, tropical forest that is close to a stream or other flowing water source which is thought to be for safety. Most active during the day, Squirrel Monkeys are found at the middle level of the forest canopy and will rarely venture towards the top as they are in danger of being caught by birds, or down to the ground in fear of other predators. Squirrel Monkeys can however, be found in a variety of forest types and have even been known to inhabit areas that have been cleared for agriculture. They are under threat though from habitat loss that is primarily in the form of deforestation for agriculture and growing Human settlements.
Squirrel Monkey Behaviour and Lifestyle
Squirrel Monkeys are incredibly sociable animals that move about noisily in the trees in large troops that are usually 40 or 50 animals strong, but can contain up to 500 individuals. Squirrel Monkey troops usually contain a number of sub-groups including adult males, pregnant females, females with their young, and groups of young Squirrel Monkeys. They communicate between one another using a range of different noises with these complex social troops sleeping together at night before breaking up into their sub-groups to feed during the day. Squirrel Monkeys are excellent at climbing and leap between branches to travel through the forest. Their long tail provides them with excellent balance and aided by their nimble hands and feet, allows Squirrel Monkeys to cover vast areas of the jungle. They are also known to follow other troops at a distance to take advantage of the food left in their path.
Squirrel Monkey Reproduction and Life Cycles
At the start of the breeding season, the shoulders of male Squirrel Monkeys broaden and they begin to fight aggressively for their right to mate, with the winner earning mating rights with the most females. Shortly after giving birth, the female Squirrel Monkey will chase away the male who plays no part in raising the single infant and leaves to join his all-male group. Squirrel Monkey births tend to occur during a short period of time which corresponds with the heaviest annual rainfall between June and August. After a gestation period that lasts for around five months, the female Squirrel Monkey begins to carry her young on her back from the first day. By the time the infant is two months old, it begins to explore more without it's mother and is almost completely independent by the time it is 10 months old. Young females may stay with or close to their mother for some time but male Squirrel Monkeys will leave her to join a young all-male group.
Squirrel Monkey Diet and Prey
The Squirrel Monkey is an omnivorous animal that eats both small animals, plants and plant matter in order to survive, feeding during the day in their smaller sub-groups. Squirrel Monkeys have a widely varied diet that is primarily comprised of fruits and insects. They are also known to eat flowers, buds, eggs, nuts, lizards and other small vertebrates that are found amongst the surrounding leaves and branches. The hands and fingers of the Squirrel Monkey are perfectly designed for holding onto food whilst either peeling it or eating it, which it does using it's small but sharp teeth. However, in areas that have been more effected by deforestation, Squirrel Monkeys have been known to raid agricultural plantations in search of food.
Squirrel Monkey Predators and Threats
The Squirrel Monkey uses a number of vocal calls to communicate with the rest of the troop including having special warning sounds which indicate the presence of a dangerous predator. The Squirrel Monkey is one of the smallest species of New World Monkeys and is therefore preyed upon by a variety of forest animals. Birds of Prey are the biggest threat to the Squirrel Monkey along with Snakes that hunt them in the trees. Due to the fact that habitat loss has forced Squirrel Monkeys in some areas to eat crops, they are threatened by methods used to try and keep them away. The fact that Squirrel Monkeys inhabit the jungle in enormous troops means that they have also been severely effected by decrease of forest as there is not enough food to sustain the whole troop.
Squirrel Monkey Interesting Facts and Features
The Squirrel Monkey is thought to be one of the most intelligent species of primate and is known to have the largest brain to body mass ratio of all the monkey species in the world. Squirrel Monkeys have incredibly good eyesight and colour vision which means that they are able to spot fruits amongst the dense vegetation with ease. Whilst feeding in really dense foliage, Squirrel Monkeys are known to make a "chuck-chuck" sound to indicate their whereabouts to other members of their troop. Squirrel Monkeys are also known to spread urine on their hands and feet which means they are able to leave a scent trail whilst moving about in the trees.
Squirrel Monkey Relationship with Humans
Due to the small size and highly intelligent nature of the Squirrel Monkey, they have been captured and kept as pets in both their native regions and around the world. Although the majority of Squirrel Monkey pets are today bred from captive animals, the capture of them in the past for the exotic pet trade has had an effect on wild populations, particularly in certain areas. The Squirrel Monkey is today however, more threatened by increasing levels of Human activity in their native regions particularly in the form of deforestation for logging and land clearance for agriculture.
Squirrel Monkey Conservation Status and Life Today
Today, the Squirrel Monkey is an animal species that is at a lower risk in it's natural environment than a number of other New World Monkey species. However, two out of the five Squirrel Monkey species are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN and two are listed as being of Least Concern. Population numbers of all five species though are threatened by habitat loss, with their large troops being pushed into smaller and smaller areas of their natural habitat.