- Suborder: Haplorrhini
- Infraorder: Simiiformes
- Family: Atelidae
- Subfamily: Atelinae
Black spider monkeys are one of the seven species of new world monkey within the Ateles genus (Groves, 2001). All Ateles are found within Central and South America (van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988).
Like other members of the Atelidae family (howler monkeys, spider monkeys, woolly spider monkeys, and woolly monkeys), black spider monkeys are quite large and are the largest new world monkey (van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988; Newland, 1994; Groves, 2001). Black spider monkeys are all black except for their face. Adults have red or pink faces (Konstant et al. 1985; Groves 2001) while infants have darker skin that will lighten with age. They have long arms with potbellies and a prehensile tail (Groves, 1989; Sussman 2000). Spider monkey are no sexual dimorphic although females may weigh slightly less than males (Youlatos, 1994).
Due to their arboreal lifestyle, black spider monkeys use brachiation (Schmitt et al. 2005). Another adaption to the arboreal environment is a smaller thumb and a prehensile tail (Groves, 1989; Tague, 1997; Schmitt et al. 2005). Prehensile tails allows the spider monkey to grasp within the canopy while the spider monkey is traveling in order to aid in quicker locomotion (Schmitt et al 2005). Like other members of the Atelidae family they have a patch of skin on the underside of their tail that is friction pad and helps the tail grip surfaces (Groves, 1989; Newland, 1994; Lemelin, 1995). An example of prehensile tail using during feeding and foraging is suspensory feeding, this is when the tail supports all of the monkeys weight in order to allow the monkey to forage with both hands (Schmitt et al 2005). Black spider monkeys will also quadrepedally walk or run across the canopy whilst using supports as well as brachiating between these bouts (Mittermeier, 1978; Youlatos, 2002).
Black spider monkeys are found within tropical evergreen forests and primary forests (Kinzey, 1997). They tend to live in high-density rainforests that are not affected by flooding rivers. They are also found in high mountain savanna forest and sometimes marsh forests (van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988; Kinzey and Norconk, 1990).
Black spider monkeys mainly consume fruits (frugivores) but will also eat leaves, flowers and insects (van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988; Russo et al 2005).
Black spider monkeys exhibit fission fusion social systems much like Chimpanzees. They have a large community of multimales and females (15 to 20 members) that break into small temporary groups led by a dominant adult female (Mittermeier and van Roosmalen 1981; van Roosmalen, 1985). However, these small groups will stay with the larger group’s home range (Simmen and Sabatier, 1996). Generally the small groups are made up of one adult female, one adult male and the female’s offspring (van Roosmalen, 1985; Norconk and Kinzey, 1994).
Generally females present their genitals to a potential male and if he is interested then they will separate from the large group for a short amount of time to several days (van Roosmalen, 1985).
Gestation for females generally lasts 226 to 232 days (van Roosmalen, 1985). Generally the interbirth rate is approximately four years (van Roosmalen, 1985). Females are the main caregivers for the infants in the wild and the offspring tend ot remain with them until they are four years of age (van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988).
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