Primate of the Week: Black Spider Monkey

Ateles paniscus  



  • 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).



Work Cited

Groves CP. 1989. A theory of human and primate evolution. Oxford (England): Clarendon Pr. 375 p.

Groves C. 2001. Primate taxonomy. Washington DC: Smithsonian Inst Pr. 350 p.

Kinzey WG. 1997. Synopsis of New World primates (16 genera). In: Kinzey WG, editor. New World primates: ecology, evolution, and behavior. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. p 169-324.

Kinzey WG, Norconk MA. 1990. Hardness as a basis of fruit choice in two sympatric primates. Am J Phys Anthro 81(1): 5-15.

Konstant W, Mittermeier RA, Nash SD. 1985. Spider monkeys in captivity and in the wild. Prim Cons 5:82-109.

Lehman SM. 2000. Primate community structure in Guyana: a biogeographic analysis. Int J Primatol 21(3): 333-51.

Lehman SM. 2004b. Biogeography of the primates of Guyana: effects of habitat use and diet on geographic distribution. Int J Primatol 25(6): 1225-42.

Lehman SM. 2004a. Distribution and diversity of primates in Guyana: species-area relationships and riverine barriers. Int J Primatol 25(1): 73-95.

Lemelin P. 1995. Comparative and functional mycology of the prehensile tail in New World monkeys. J Morph 224(3): 351-68.

Mittermeier RA. 1978. Locomotion and posture in Ateles geoffroyi and Ateles paniscus. Folia Primatol 30: 161-93.

Mittermeier RA, van Roosmalen MGM. 1981. Preliminary observations on habitat utilization and diet in eight Surinam monkeys. Folia Primatol 36: 1-39.

Newland K. 1994. 1994 North American regional studbook for South American spider monkeys Ateles belzebuth, A. fusciceps, A. paniscus – all subspecies. Wichita (KS): Sedgwick County Zoo. 121 p.

Russo SE, Campbell CJ, Dew JL, Stevenson PR, Suarez SA. 2005. A multi-forest comparison of dietary preferences and seed dispersal by Ateles spp. Int J Primatol 26(5): 1017-37.

Schmitt D, Rose MD, Turnquist JE, Lemelin P. 2005. Role of the prehensile tail during Ateline locomotion: experimental and osteological evidence. Am J Phys Anthro 126(4): 435-46.

Sussman RW. 2000. Primate ecology and social structure. Volume 2, New World monkeys. Needham Heights (MA): Pearson Custom. 207 p.

Tague RG. 1997. Variability of a vestigial structure: first metacarpal in Colobus guereza and Ateles geoffroyi. Evolution 51(2): 595-605.

van Roosmalen MGM. 1985. Habitat preferences, diet, feeding strategy and social organization of the black spider monkey (Ateles paniscus paniscus Linnaeus 1758) in Surinam. Acta Amazon 15(3/4, suppl): 1-238.

van Roosmalen MGM, Klein LL. 1988. The spider monkeys, Genus Ateles. In: Mittermeier RA, Rylands AB, Coimbra-Filho AF, da Fonseca GAB, editors. Ecology and behavior of neotropical primates, Volume 2. Washington DC: World Wildl Fund. p 455-539.

Youlatos D. 1994. Maitrise de l’espace et acces aux ressources chez le singe hurleur roux (Alouatta seniculus) en Guyane francaise. Etude morpho-fonctionnelle. PhD dissertation, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.

Youlatos D. 2002. Positional behavior of black spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus) in French Guiana. Int J Primatol 23(5): 1071-93.



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