There are 9 different species of spider monkeys. Ecoparque el Fenix is home to the black handed spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), of which there are 7 recognized subspecies. Spider monkeys are found within tropical forest regions of Central and Southern America, with Mexico being the most northerly tip of their range.
Spider monkeys are often referred to as the ‘acrobats of the forests’ as they are highly specialized arboreal climbers. Known as ‘canopy dwellers’ spider monkeys spend most of their time within the upper levels of the tree tops, rarely descending to the ground. Evolution has selected for several adaptations to aid with spider monkey arboreal locomotion including long limbs and a prehensile tail. Long limbs can aid in brachiation, a form of hand over hand movement that allows spider monkeys to travel quickly whilst suspended from underneath branches. The prehensile tail acts as a fifth limb and can be used to aid with grip such as holding fruits, and is also strong enough to support the entire body without aid from hands or feet. Spider monkeys can often be seen hanging from their tails whilst they feed or groom.
Spider monkeys are highly frugivorous and sample from a huge selection of forest fruits during different seasons. Approximately 83% of their dietary intake is found within the tree tops. Spider monkeys also supplement their diet with young leaves, bark and occasionally small insects such as termites and ants. Spider monkeys are very important for the ecosystems as they are very efficient seed dispersers through endozoochrony (seed dispersal via ingestion). By eating a wide range of fruits, spider monkeys ingest and defecate seeds throughout the forest. This encourages plant regrowth and benefits every trophic level from insects to large mammals, as all rely on plants for food and shelter.
Spider monkeys are highly social primates with a complex social strategy of ‘fission fusion’ whereby different groups swap members. Spider monkeys can live in large groups of up to 20-30 individuals. Ateles geoffroyi typically have group formations of approximately 16-20 members. Although there is a lot of them, spider monkeys are difficult to see in the forests due to their height within the trees and they often split into smaller subgroups of between 2-4 individuals throughout the day. The composition of small groups can change daily, with the exception of mother and offspring. Offspring are dependent on their mothers milk for up to 1 year after birth and even after weaning stay in close social contact until they reach sexual maturity (at between 4-5 years of age). Females have a long pregnancy of approximately 226-232 days. Inter-birth interval is usually 3 years and females give birth to one infant. Slow reproductive biology makes spider monkeys vulnerable to threats. Loss of individuals can cause the population to struggle to recover.
Habitat loss is a major concern for spider monkey species throughout Central and Southern America. Regions of Mexico still contain suitable wild habitats, yet local hunting for food and extraction for the illegal pet trade has also contributed to the risk of extinction.
All species of spider monkey are listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered, with the exceptions of Ateles hybridus and Ateles fusciceps which are both critically endangered.
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