The Spider Monkey

The Spider Monkey

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By Adriana Boccalon Acosta

Although the populations of Ateles belzebuth have become extinct in the rest of the country, in the Caura basin they remain intact, contributing to the ecological balance of their natural habitat. A sophisticated food processor that helps maintain the forest.

How difficult it is to come face to face with a spider monkey! These primates live in the tops of the tallest trees in the forest and only step on the ground when they playfully end up on the ground between one pirouette and another.

It is then that we can see that it is an animal with a thin body, about 10 kilos in weight at most, totally covered with rough and short black hair, except on the belly where the color is light brown. From head to head it can reach 58 centimeters, but with the long prehensile tail that serves to cling to tree branches, it easily reaches 90 centimeters. Their feet look more like hands with very long fingers, which invariably lack the thumb, because among the primates of the new world, this piece does not exist.

In addition, he has well-developed fangs that even though they are very useful when eating, because he is a glutton! When he smiles, they give his face an expression that looks more like a satanic grimace, and that is probably the origin of the denomination of its species, belzebuth, one of the many names that the tenant of hell receives.

However, our Ateles belzebuth, known in the country as Spider Monkey, and as Hairy Atelo in other regions of South America, is not an aggressive animal, but rather friendly and sympathetic, and perhaps for that reason some specimens ended up premiering habitat at the Paington Zoo in England, where more than 100 years ago, Herbert Whitley, passionate about the animal and plant world, showed the public his first collection.

Obviously Whitley is no longer on this plane, but his spirit remains in that natural space conceived with the best of his hands and his intellect, which beyond being just a zoo for recreation, is now an environmental education center, where Research projects for the conservation of flora and fauna species occupy a special place.

Until a few years ago little was known about this species native to South America, whose populations are distributed east of Ecuador, north of Peru and Brazil, in Colombia and in some regions of Venezuelan territory, where they certainly face a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term, due to the fragmentation of forests, their natural habitat.

The Ateles belzebuth was on the sides of Guatopo, between Miranda and Guárico, and is no longer there, it also made life in the jungles of Ticoporo and Caparo in the state of Barinas, as well as in the wooded regions of Turén and Caño San Benito in Portuguesa , And what is left ?, probably a few specimens and the records of zoological collections, nothing more, as well as south of Lake Maracaibo where their populations also went down in history.

In the Venezuelan Amazon, their populations are relatively stable, even when they have been hit by the indigenous communities that consume their meat. However, in the vicinity of the Nichare River, in the Caura basin, one of the most important forest reserves in the world due to its extension and high level of biodiversity, the Spider Monkey is born, grows and develops in healthy peace, contributing to the maintenance the ecological balance of the forest, and defending itself from the harpy eagle and snakes such as the tragavenados, its main predators, because luckily, the indigenous communities of that region do not feed on primates.

Still, Ateles belzebuth appears in the Vulnerable category on the World Conservation Union's Red Lists of Endangered Species, the most comprehensive inventory, a scientifically-based authoritative guide to conservation status. of animals and plants worldwide.


And it is precisely at this moment that a very special collaborator enters the stage. This is Hernán Castellanos, a biologist by profession graduated from the Central University of Venezuela, currently a teacher and researcher at the Center for Ecological Research of the National Experimental University of Guayana, who obtained his Phd in Biological Sciences at the Exeter University of England, after more than two years of studies paid for by the heirs of the Paington Zoo, who wanted to know details of the life of the Spider Monkey in areas not intervened or little disturbed.

Castellanos traveled the Caura River until he found in the lower part of the basin a wooded, dense and humid area, characterized by the presence of deciduous trees that coexist with evergreen species, and by a great richness and floristic heterogeneity. The site was remote, but ideal. There was no fragmentation of the forest, the indigenous stayed away, the area had little or no incursion by hunters and the Ateles belzebuth populations looked in perfect condition to be studied.

For Hernán Castellanos, the Spider Monkey is a very interesting animal and the reasons are very varied. Like the rest of the primates, including man, the Ateles belzebuth marks its territory, between 200 and 250 hectares depending on the quality of the habitat and the availability of food, where 4 or 5 males coexist with about 30 females, which it does not mean, however, that they are promiscuous societies. Each male has his group of females and they only relate sexually with whom they correspond.

His sex life is also curious. The male proposes and the female disposes, and when she feels encouraged, the couple withdraws from the group to a comfortable place and copulates in private for a period of time that can vary between 15 minutes and an entire hour. Once the male regains his strength, he selects another of his females and the story is repeated until all are inseminated. After a gestation process of 4 and a half months, the baby is born with whom the mother establishes a close relationship, since she pampers, cares for her and takes care of her until she is quite grown.

Males live and die in the same territory; However, sometimes females leave home in search of new adventures outside their borders, and even when there are no studies that explain such behavior, this practice is excellent to avoid the degeneration of the breed by inbreeding, which is what happens in closed groups that intersect. These migrations allow the strengthening of the genetic load, since the females end up inseminated by males different from those who live in their old territory.

If a female leaves, the male feels neither alone nor abandoned, as he still has a lot to entertain himself. He never neglects his responsibility to patrol the territory and, of course, to protect the food resource. The sense of smell is very important because it is used to measure the maturity of the fruits. When it finds a valuable resource, it monitors it until it is ready to serve. It is then when he uses vocalization to get the attention of his companions, whom he invites to share the food.

In general, in the dry season, the trees that produce fruit are grouped together in a small environment, where the whole family necessarily goes to satisfy hunger. However, during the winter, food is abundant throughout the forest, which allows them to develop a kind of food strategy that maintains ecological balance, as the groups divide to make better use of the resource in terms of time and space. and thus avoid its overexploitation.


Without dwelling on philosophical reflections, we can say that feeding to grow, procreate and perpetuate the species is what gives meaning to the existence of every living being, and sometimes we take these steps without realizing the importance of each process that we carry out to achieve the end.

Our protagonist, the Spider Monkey, is a creature that feeds mainly on wild, pulpy and ripe fruits, among which are the seeds of more than half of the tree species that make up the forest. Every 2 hours, between 7 in the morning and 7 at night, the Ateles belzebuth ingests an average of 30 fruits per minute and expels about 60 thousand seeds daily without digesting.

They are like sophisticated food processing machines, since they swallow the whole fruit, extract the nutrient from it and, after using the seed as a crushing agent for the pulp to make it more digestible, they expel it through the excreta. The seeds go out into the outside world conditioned to germinate, as stomach acids are responsible for softening their outer layer, which is sometimes very hard. In addition, as they pass through the large intestine they become impregnated with fecal matter, which keeps insects that could attack the seed by germinating away.

To complement its diet, since in our forests there is a certain deficiency of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iodine, zinc, copper, boron and selenium, among others, the Spider Monkey consumes flowers and tender leaves, and nests of ants and termites with high protein content, and to obtain lipids as an energy source, they make use of some species of the Lauraceae family, such as avocado, whose vegetable fat content they store as a reserve substance.


Each specimen of the Ateles belzebuth species is capable of traveling daily between 8 and 10 kilometers throughout its territory, thus guaranteeing the dispersal of seeds of multiple species throughout the forest.

There are many other animals that share a habitat with the Spider Monkey and that are also frugivores, such as birds; However, neither the largest nor the smallest are capable of fulfilling the role of our protagonist, since either they do not have movements as wide as this one or they simply do not consume the same variety and quantity of seeds.

From this point of view, the conclusion of the Paington Zoo-funded study looks very simple. It is necessary to protect the populations of the Ateles belzebuth located in the Caura basin, because in this way we would be ensuring the maintenance, permanence and balance of the forest, producer and reservoir of water, food, medicinal plants and timber resources, carbon collector, protector of soils and provider of endless environmental services.

Inventory of endangered species
The IUCN Red Lists

The Red Lists of the World Conservation Union, IUCN, is the most complete inventory of the state of conservation of animal and plant species worldwide, for which it uses scientific criteria that have allowed it to be recognized as the most comprehensive guide. authority on the status of biological diversity. This guide groups species according to the degree of possibility of extinction in which they are found, and the categories are:

* Extinct: When there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual of a species has died.
* Extinct in the wild: when it is known that it only survives in captivity, cultivated or as a naturalized population or populations far away from its natural habitat. A species is presumed to be extinct in the wild when in-depth research has been carried out in its habitat, at appropriate times, and not a single individual has been recorded.
* Critically endangered: when you face a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
* Endangered: when it is not critically endangered but faces a high risk of extinction in the wild.
* Vulnerable: when not critically endangered or endangered, but faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term
* Lower Risk: When assessed, but does not meet the criteria for any of the Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable categories. Species that are included in this category can be separated into three sub-categories, conservation-dependent, near threatened, and minor.
* Insufficient data: when there is inadequate information to carry out an evaluation of its extinction risk based on its distribution and or population status. A species in this category may be well studied and its biology well known, but appropriate data on abundance and / or distribution are absent. Thus, it is not therefore a category of threat or low risk.
* Not evaluated: When it has not been evaluated based on the above criteria. It would correspond to the species that due to lack of information and / or time, or because it was not considered necessary, were excluded from the studies on which this book is based.

It is estimated that about 300 species have been eliminated from the planet in the last 30 years and almost 1000 more could be in serious danger of disappearing.

The Ateles belzebuth species appears in the Vulnerable category on the World Conservation Union red lists, which means that in the last three generations, 30% of its populations have disappeared. Photo Website

Video: Wild Kratts - Swing Like a Spider Monkey and Bite Like a Real Spider (July 2022).


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