Monday, November 5, 2012

White-headed Capuchins of Central America

White-headed Capuchin by JoeOcchipinti
White-headed Capuchin, a photo by JoeOcchipinti on Flickr.

As New World monkeys of Central America, white-headed capuchins are perhaps one of the most recognizable of all primates, best known as partners of the street-performing organ grinders of early 20th century New York City. White-faced Capuchins are known to be very clever and can easily evade capture. In fact, they are so intelligent that they are sometimes used as animal helpers for  people who are paraplegic.

White-faced Capuchin MonkeysIn our travel to Costa Rica we were fortunate enough to observe two different troupes of Capuchin, one in a mangrove forest and another near our beach hotel.  In the mangroves, they were wary of us and posturing for us to leave (above), while by the beach resort they couldn't have cared less, and happily socialized with each other (left).  I will long remember the day when standing in the growing shadows of tall palms, we watched these wondrous creatures until the sun set into the Pacific.

I can tell you, it is truly amazing just how human-like these creatures are.  In the wild these amazing animals employ the use of tools to access and gather food, and have been known to use plants medicinally.  Capuchins have been seen rubbing citrus fruits and vines on their fur, perhaps in an effort to rid themselves of parasites or as a way to scent themselves. On a few occasions, researches have observed them armed with sticks for protection.  There is one story of  mother frantically hitting a snake so it would let go of her infant.

These arboreal creatures are very social and like to live in large groups, often establishing alliances with each other. Kinship is important, particularly female to female bonds.  Females are pregnant for about five months and usually bear a single young. Mothers share parenting duties.

Like humans the young mature slowly, usually weaned in about a year, and remain adolescents for several years.  They have been known to live to fifty years and beyond.

Click here to see more capuchin images from our trip to Costa Rica.