A Spider Monkey's Life in the Canopy

by Corrie Agnew
Spider monkeys use their long arms, legs and tail to swing from branch to branch in the canopy.

Spider monkeys use their long arms, legs and tail to swing from branch to branch in the canopy.

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Spider monkeys are known for their disproportionately long arms and legs, and their hairless faces. There are currently seven different species of spider monkey that are considered true New World monkeys. Two of these species -- the brown spider monkey and the black-headed spider monkey -- are on the critically endangered list. Spider monkeys' lives in the canopy center primarily around foraging for food, but they also rest, play and groom one another. They are excellent climbers and highly intelligent.


Spider monkeys primarily inhabit the tropical rain forests of Central and South America, though small groups are also found in southern Mexico. They are arboreal, which means they spend all of their time in the trees. They need the high canopy of this habitat to thrive, as it provides them with food and protection from predators. Unfortunately, as rapid deforestation of the rain forests continue, the spider monkey's home is disappearing. This is one main reason why most spider monkey species are considered endangered.

Behavior and Diet

The life of the spider monkey is heavily affected by its nutritional needs. The canopy provides them with the fruits, seeds and nuts that comprise most of their diet. If their main food source is interrupted or becomes scare, they will also eat leaves, flowers, bark, insects and bird eggs. Because females are more efficient at finding food, they tend to be dominate. They develop routes for foraging and lead the males and young offspring throughout the treetops in small groups. Most of their foraging is done in the early morning. Although they usually live in groups of 15 to 35, they break up into smaller groups to find food. This method prevents overforaging and allows them to stay in one place longer.


Female spider monkeys reach sexual maturity at the age of 4, while males take an extra year. The monkeys engage in anogenital sniffing to determine fertility. Once copulation has taken place, the male's role is over. Females usually conceive every three to five years, and although multiples can occur, a majority of conceptions result in only one offspring. Initially, baby spider monkeys are carried around on their mothers' bellies for up to three months. They continue to spend the rest of their first year completely reliant on their mothers for food and protection, but are able to move about and play on their own. Unlike most primates, the females leave the main group once they reach puberty, while the males remain.


The population of spider monkeys has been so severely diminished that six of the seven species are now officially endangered. The remaining species, the Guiana spider monkey, is considered vulnerable, which means it is likely to become endangered. One cause of this is deforestation, or the farming and logging of the rain forests. They are also heavily hunted as a food source by natives.

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    Corrie Agnew studied English with a writing concentration at Franciscan University in Ohio. Besides writing about various topics at Demand Studios, she also blogs and dabbles in short fiction. Her subjects of expertise include women's health and parenting.