Central and South Florida’s tropical and subtropical climates are very similar to the environments of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Several types of monkeys in Florida originate from these continents, as people brought them to the state for scientific purposes or as pets. Climate similarities, therefore, allow monkeys to thrive in Florida. The availability of food and water also contributes to their success. Consequently, the monkey population has exploded in recent years, and there are now estimated to be hundreds of thousands of monkeys in Florida.
1. Rhesus Macaques
Rhesus macaques are the most widespread monkey species in Florida. They inhabit all corners of the state, from the Everglades to the Florida Keys. They typically live in wooded areas near water sources. Rhesus macaques have distinctive reddish-brown fur and long tails.
Rhesus macaques are medium-sized monkeys that weigh between 11 and 17 pounds. They are indigenous to Asia, specifically countries like China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. The natural habitat of rhesus macaques is in forests, but they can also live in urban areas.
Like most primates, these ones also thrive on communal interaction and live in troops of up to several hundred individuals. These troops typically have a hierarchical structure, with a dominant male at the top. Females and young males typically form the lower ranks of the hierarchy.
Rhesus macaques are intelligent and learn new tasks with relative ease. Scientists use them for research because of their learning abilities and still do so for studies of human health and behavior.
2. Capuchin Monkeys
Capuchin monkeys are another type of monkey that live in Florida. These monkeys are not native to the state but were introduced by humans at some point. Capuchin monkeys are smaller than Rhesus macaques and have lighter-colored fur. They often make their homes in urban areas, where they can find food and shelter.
These primates are New World monkeys that are native to Central and South America. These monkeys get their name from the Capuchin order of Catholic monks, who wear robes similar in color to the monkey’s fur.
Capuchins are small to medium-sized animals that weigh between three and nine pounds. They have long tails that are perfect for keeping their balance when moving through the trees. These monkeys are also omnivorous, so they consume plants and animals. This diet makes Florida an ideal spot for all their needs. In terms of what type of monkey you can have in Florida, you can own a Capuchin, but there are strict laws in place regarding the ownership of these primates.
3. Vervet Monkeys
These small to medium-sized monkeys weigh between 7.5 and 17.6 pounds (male and female range). They are recognizable for their long tails and blue scrotum. The hair on their back is gray, while the hair on their belly is white. Vervet monkeys are omnivorous and consume assorted fruits, leaves, flowers, and insects.
Vervet monkeys are prevalent throughout Africa, specifically in Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Vervets live in forests, woodlands, and Savannas. Some troops even reside in human settlements. These monkeys are active during the day, sleeping in trees at night.
Although vervet monkeys are social animals, adult males generally live alone or in small groups of 2 to 5 males. More considerable troops of 10 to 40 individuals comprise related females and their offspring.
Vervet monkeys were introduced to Florida in the 1940s when a group escaped from a research facility. These monkeys have since adapted to life in the Sunshine State and occupy diverse habitats, including forests, swamps, and suburban neighborhoods. While they are not considered endangered, Florida law protects vervet monkeys, so it is illegal to harm or kill them.
4. Common Squirrel Monkeys
Squirrel monkeys are small and are indigenous to Central and South America. Their natural habitat includes rainforests, swamps, and mangroves. Besides, their long tails and furry bodies are adapted to these environments, making them good climbers that can jump long distances.
These monkeys are about the size of a house cat. They weigh from one to two pounds and are about 12 inches long, not including their tail. Their fur is mostly gray, but they have a white or yellowish chest and belly.
Common squirrel monkeys are omnivores. Their diet includes fruit, insects, nuts, and leaves. Their groups consist of as many as 40 monkeys, with males leaving the troop when they reach adulthood. They are active during the day and sleep in trees at night.
People brought common squirrel monkeys to Florida in the 1950s. Experts first brought them over from Cuba as part of a research project. Then they canceled the project and released the monkeys into the wilds of Florida.
Today, an estimated 200 squirrel monkeys live in Central and South Florida forests. Squirrel monkeys are not considered endangered, and scientists believe that they are doing well, and their population is growing. Just in case you’re wondering what type of monkeys are legal to own in Florida, this is one of them.
5. Crab Eating Macaques
Crab-eating macaques are a species of macaque that is native to Southeastern Asia. Their range extends from southern China to northern India and Indonesia. In recent years, however, they have become established in Florida. Officials believe that the pet trade brought them into the state.
Other names for these primates include the Cynomolgus monkey or long-tailed macaque. They grow to a size of about 15-22 inches tall and weigh up to 20 pounds. They have reddish-brown fur and very long tails.
Crab-eating macaques are opportunistic feeders, and their diet consists of fruits, leaves, flowers, insects, and small mammals. They do not feed on crabs as their name suggests but would probably eat one if it became available. These macaques do eat crops, such as rice fields, on occasion.
The crab-eating macaque is a social species that contains three to 20 females, their offspring, and one or many males. A dominant male leads the troop, which comprises females and their young. Males leave their natal troop at adolescence and may join another or live a solitary life.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the crab-eating macaque as vulnerable. Their populations are decreasing due to habitation loss and fragmentation, as well as hunting and the pet trade.
Conservation efforts are underway to protect the crab-eating macaque. These include habitat protection, restoration, education, and awareness campaigns.
6. Spider Monkeys
These monkeys live in the Central and South American tropical forests. They are medium-sized monkeys, with males and females weighing between 6 and 15 pounds. They have long arms and legs to swing from tree to tree. Spider monkeys are also curious, playful, and highly intelligent.
People keep them as pets sometimes, but experts do not recommend this as they can be aggressive and destructive. Spider monkeys can live for as long as 25 years in the wild and 40 years in captivity.
Spider monkeys are not native to Florida, but there have been four sightings in the state over the past two decades.
The first sighting of a spider monkey in Florida was in 2001 when someone saw a young male in Miami-Dade County. In 2003, 2007, and 2012, people spotted three other spider monkeys in Broward, Palm Beach County, and Collier County, respectively. Authorities arranged for their capture and transport to a local zoo.
A spider monkey with “Batman” markings was recently born at a Florida zoo. The zoo staff named the black-and-white infant “Batman.” Born on May 4, 2022, at the Naples Zoo in Southwest Florida, he is the son of parents Bane, a seven-year-old male, and Harley, a six-year-old female. In addition, the Naples Zoo is home to seven spider monkeys. However, zookeepers confirm that he is the first spider monkey born at the Naples Zoo in over 20 years.
Are There Any Monkeys Native to the United States?
No. While monkeys existed many millions of years ago in what is now the North American continent, they were wiped out at the close of the Eocene Epoch, 33.9 million years ago. Fossil evidence shows that an ancestor of the tarsier monkey lived in Mississippi about 55 million years ago, and one can presume that there were other such species. However, when the climate grew much colder at the end of the Eocene, monkeys died out, except for the ones along the equator.
Since there are equatorial forests in South America where monkeys survived, and since the climate has since warmed up again, why hasn’t the monkey migrated back north? The success of monkeys introduced to Florida shows that there are Central and North American climates that are suitable. Well, until 3.5 million years ago when the Isthmus of Panama came into being, there was no land passage between the continents for monkeys to cross. By then, after 30 million years of adaptation to dense tropical forests, which North America doesn’t have, the monkeys weren’t interested in moving anywhere else.
Summary of the 6 Types of Monkeys in Florida
|Location in Florida
|Across Florida in wooded areas near water
|Central and South America
|In urban areas
|In forests, swamps, and suburban areas
|Common Squirrel Monkey
|Central and South America
|In Central and South Florida in swamps
|Crab Eating Macaque
|Central and South America
|Only 4 sightings but also at Naples Zoo
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com
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