The Capuchin Monkeys

The capuchin monkeys are New World monkeys of the subfamily Cebinae. They are readily identified as the "organ grinder" monkey, and have been used in many movies and television shows. The range of capuchin monkeys includes Central America and South America as far south as northern Argentina. In Central America, they usually occupy the wet lowland forests on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama and deciduous dry forest on the Pacific coast.

Capuchins are black, brown, buff or whitish, but their exact color and pattern depends on the species involved. They reach a length of 30 to 56 cm (12 to 22 in), with tails that are just as long as the body.

Like most New World monkeys, capuchins are diurnal and arboreal. With the exception of a midday nap, they spend their entire day searching for food. At night, they sleep in the trees, wedged between branches. They are undemanding regarding their habitat and can thus be found in many differing areas.

The capuchin monkey feeds on a vast range of food types, and is more varied than other monkeys in the family Cebidae. They are omnivores, and consume a variety of plant parts such as leaves, flower and fruit, seeds, pith, woody tissue, sugarcane, bulb, and exudates, as well as arthropods, molluscs, a variety of vertebrates, and even primates. Capuchins have been observed to also be particularly good at catching frogs. They are characterized as innovative and extreme foragers because of their ability to acquire sustenance from a wide collection of unlikely food, which may assure them survival in habitats with extreme food limitation. Capuchins living near water will also eat crabs and shellfish by cracking their shells with stones.

Capuchin monkeys inhabit a large range of Brazil and other parts of Latin and Central America. Capuchin monkeys often live in large groups of 10 to 35 individuals within the forest, although they can easily adapt to places colonized by humans. Usually, a single male will dominate the group, and they have primary rights to mate with the females of their group. However, the white-headed capuchin groups are led by both an alpha male and an alpha female. Each group will cover a large territory, since members must search for the best areas to feed. These primates are territorial animals, distinctly marking a central area of their territory with urine and defending it against intruders, though outer areas may overlap. The stabilization of group dynamics is served through mutual grooming, and communication occurs between the monkeys through various calls. Capuchins can jump up to nine feet (three meters), and they use this mode of transport to get from one tree to another. They remain hidden among forest vegetation for most of the day, sleeping on tree branches and descending to the ground to find drinking water.

Capuchin females often direct most of their proceptive and mating behavior towards the alpha male. However, when the female reaches the end of her proceptive period, she may sometimes mate with up to six different subordinate males in one day. Strictly targeting the alpha male does not happen every time, as some females have been observed to mate with three to four different males. When an alpha female and a lower-ranking female want to mate with an alpha male, the more dominant female will get rights to the male over the lower-ranking one.

Capuchins are considered the most intelligent New World monkeys and are often used in laboratories. The tufted capuchin is especially noted for its long-term tool usage, one of the few examples of primate tool use other than by apes. Upon seeing macaws eating palm nuts, cracking them open with their beaks, these capuchins will select a few of the ripest fruits, nip off the tip of the fruit and drink down the juice, then seemingly discard the rest of the fruit with the nut inside. When these discarded fruits have hardened and become slightly brittle, the capuchins will gather them up again and take them to a large flat boulder where they have previously gathered a few river stones from up to a mile away. They will then use these stones, some of them weighing as much as the monkeys, to crack open the fruit to get to the nut inside. Young capuchins will watch this process to learn from the older, more experienced adults but it takes them 8 years to master this. The learning behavior of capuchins has been demonstrated to be directly linked to a reward rather than curiosity.

In 2005, experiments were conducted on the ability of capuchins to use money. After several months of training, the monkeys began exhibiting behaviors considered to reflect understanding of the concept of a medium of exchange that were previously believed to be restricted to humans (such as responding rationally to price shocks). They showed the same propensity to avoid perceived losses demonstrated by human subjects and investors. During the mosquito season, they crush millipedes and rub the result on their backs. This acts as a natural insect repellent.

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