The black handed spider monkey is named for the long, ‘spider’ like limbs which allow them to move through the trees gracefully. Their hands are thumbless turning them in to a simple hook which can easily grab branches. The feet have an opposable big toe to help with grabbing branches.
They have a long, prehensile tail which acts as a fifth limb to help them move through the trees. It may also be used for picking items up. This tail measures 63-84cm (24.8-33.1in) long.
On the hands and feet of all individuals they have black fur. The rest of their body fur varies between individuals from black to a light buff or reddish-brown.
The face is hairless around the eyes and muzzle.
Their body length is between 30.5 and 63cm (12 and 24.8in) long. An average black handed spider monkey may weigh 6-9kg (13.2-19.8lbs).
They perform the role of a seed disperser in their environment.
Water can be obtained from terrestrial sources but also from water in tree hollows or gathered on leaves. It can also be obtained from their food.
Central and South America is the native home of the spider monkey. Here they can be found throughout Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.
They make their home in a wide variety of forest habitats including mangrove, deciduous, cloud and tropical forests.
Black handed spider monkeys have no breeding season and mating can take place at any time of the year. Females have an estrous cycle of 24 to 27 days with mating taking place across a 2-3 day period.
Dominant males will breed more often than subordinates.
Following a successful mating the female will give birth after a 226-232 day gestation period.
At birth the infant will weigh 426g (15oz). For the first four months of their life they are carried by the mother on their abdomen and then they move on to the back. While travelling the infant and mother will intertwine their tails.
When juveniles start to move through the trees they cannot stretch between trees due to their shorter limbs. To help this an adult will stretch out and form a bridge that the infant can cross.
Infants will be dependent on their mothers for 3 years. While the mother is lactating ovulation is suppressed and she is unable to breed.
Females mature at four years old with males maturing slightly later at five years old. Males remain in their group but females will leave at maturity.
They form family groups which average 30 members though on rare occasions groups have been found with 100 members. When groups are at their largest they may spend only a few weeks together as a whole and split in to smaller groups for the rest of the year.
Black handed spider monkeys are active by day. Most of their activity such as feeding takes place in the morning. Afternoons are typically used for resting.
Groups of black handed spider monkeys split in to smaller parties to go out to find food.
They have been observed applying ground lime tree leaves mixed with saliva to their fur and this acts as insect repellent.
Black handed spider monkeys make a range of vocalizations including a bark if threatened or a whinny if they become separated from their group.
Predators and Threats
Humans affect the populations of black handed spider monkeys mainly through hunting. This has led to local extinctions in some parts of their range. Hunting takes place both for the bush meat trade and the pet trade.
Another threat is deforestation with the spider monkey not being largely tolerant of habitat degradation.
The long period between offspring means recovery for this species after population declines will take a long time.
The Ateles portion of their scientific name comes from a word meaning ‘imperfect.’ This is a reference to their vestigial thumb.
They are considered to be among the world’s most intelligent primate species.
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