Belize is home to one of the largest primates in the New World, the spider monkey (Ateles sp.). These monkeys get their name from their ability to stretch out like a spider in the canopy of the forest. They are also an easy primate to recognize, both males and females have a black coat with patches of white, long limbs, and a tail that is just as long as the body, with males being slightly bigger than females.
Spider monkeys are very social creatures, usually living in intricate communities of two to three dozen individuals which break off into smaller groups to sleep and forage. These communities are overseen by a single matriarch that keeps the group on a feeding and sleeping schedule as well as deciding who can be a part of the community. Populations of spider monkeys can get very loud as they communicate with one another, while some in the group sleep, others keep watch and signal with a loud barking if threatened or disturbed.
Spider Monkeys Live in the Canopy of the Forest
Spider monkeys have an important relationship with the forest, the canopy provides protective cover for the primates from aerial predators, such as large birds, and a hiding place from other predators like jaguars and pumas. Small groups of these monkeys travel long distances throughout the trees looking for food, using their long limbs to snag hard to reach fruit and leaves. Their active lifestyle requires a huge diet and spider monkeys spend most of their time eating, which is great for the rainforest! Spider monkeys have evolved special digestive systems that allow them to eat fruit whole, this helps them eat quickly so they can keep moving. As they travel further, they spread the seeds through defecation, thus contributing to the diversity of the rainforest ecosystem. Spider monkeys depend on the rainforest for their home, food, and communities, while the forest, in turn depends on them for seed dispersal.
They require a continuous canopy to thrive, using it to travel, sleep, and as a source of food. For this reason, human deforestation has been a critical challenge in the success of these primates in Central America.
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- all photos, Inspire EdVentures LLC