Locally known as “mono cariblanco,” the White-faced Capuchin is a well-recognized monkey of the forests of Central America and northwestern South America. It is a medium-sized New World monkey of the family Cebidae, and is very well-known from pop culture and media—it is known as the “organ grinder” monkey and is featured in television programs and movies. The White-faced Capuchin monkey is mostly black with yellowish-cream on the front of the body—face, shoulders, upper arms and chest. It has a distinct black crown and a pink face. It weighs up to 8 lbs and grows up to 40 cm (not including the tail). White-faced Capuchins have a long, semi-prehensile tail—it lacks the naked grip pad on the underside of the tip of tail of howler and spider monkeys, and it is usually held coiled at the tip and primarily used for balance; however, they often wrap their tail around branches for support and occasionally can hang from their tail when feeding or playing. Their tail is longer than their body!
The White Headed Capuchin is highly adaptable to different types of forest. They are diurnal, active from dawn to dusk, but peak activity times are in the morning and then again in late afternoon. They are arboreal, but come down to the ground more often than other New World monkeys such as tamarins and howlers. They walk on all four limbs, traveling through all levels of the forest. They are general omnivores, and eat fruits, nuts, plants, invertebrates and small vertebrates. They are highly social and live in troops of 20 or more individuals. Within the troop, approximately 75% are related females, and it also includes immigrant males and offspring. The White-Headed Capuchin is very vocal, making a wide range of sounds including barks, growls, screams and chatters. Both males and females exhibit different dominance behaviors within the group. Males migrate to new troops and social groups several times throughout their lives, and often move with other males. Infanticide is reported on occasion when an immigrant male White-Faced Capuchin monkey enters a new group, in order to bring the females into breeding condition sooner.
Large groups disperse widely to forage. Troops have home ranges of 32-86 hectares and travel 1-3 km daily. Home ranges overlap with other troops, and the monkeys are not highly territorial, but will display aggressively toward other individuals and are typically hostile. Males may bare teeth and growl, shake branches and throw sticks if angered. They sometimes travel with other species such as Central American Spider Monkeys. Known predators of White-Headed Capuchin include snakes, caimans, jaguars, ocelots and Harpy Eagles. Living in troops helps the White-Headed Capuchin monkey detect predators early and avoid predation.
White-faced Capuchins are polygamous, meaning males mate with multiple females. Females mate throughout the year but only have young once every 2 years. Females give birth to one young (or on occasion twins) during the dry season from December to April, after a 5- to 6-month gestation period. The young rides on the mother’s back for the first 6 weeks, and can begin to stray away from its mother after only 4-5 weeks. By 3 months old, the young White-Faced Capuchin monkey can move around and explore independently. Young are weaned between 6 and 12 months. They are long-lived, with a maximum lifespan of 44 years.
White-faced Capuchins are highly intelligent animals. They are noted for their use of tools in many ways. They will rub citrus fruits and medicinal plants on their body to heal lesions and act as a natural insect repellent. They also use tools such as sticks and rocks for weapons and food acquisition. White-faced Capuchins have been trained to assist paraplegics. Capuchins have a proportionately larger brain than Mantled Howlers. They are highly curious and are known to approach humans to steal attractive objects!
The White-Headed Capuchin is found from Honduras to western Ecuador, in the lowlands and foothills up to 2000 m. They are commonly found in protected areas, but sadly are still captured from the wild as bush meat and for the pet trade. They are also killed by farmers who consider them pests. White-faced Capuchins can be commonly found around the Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp Darien, where their silly antics always entertain our guests!
Interesting Fact: These New World monkeys get the name “capuchin” after the order of Capuchin Friars, specifically from their head coloration resembling the cowls of these friars.
Following troops: Several non-primate species are known to follow troops of White-faced Capuchins—peccaries and agoutis, as well as Double-toothed Kites and White Hawks follow these raucous troops to look for food that the monkeys drop or flush!