owl monkey father's day
June 14, 2014

World’s Best Dad? Owl Monkeys Win The Title Hands Down

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

If you're last minute shopping for Father's Day, you're going to want to put down that 'World's Best Dad' mug. Trust me.

According to Patricia C. Wright of Stony Brook University and the 2014 winner of the Indianapolis Prize – widely regarded as the Nobel Prize for conservation – no matter how devoted you think your father may be as a parent, another clear winner has emerged in the animal kingdom, forever seizing the title of 'World's Best Dad'.

Wright, a renowned primatologist, conservationist and author of High Moon over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night (Lantern Books: 2013) feels her position of expertise allows her to crown the owl monkey (also known as the night monkey) with the lofty title. Unlike other fathers in the animal kingdom that, at best, would be considered dead beats and, at worst, might possibly eat their own offspring given the chance, the owl monkey father takes on the role of primary caregiver to its young, superseding the care and affection of even the mother.

Owl monkey fathers are actively engaged in the rearing of their young, going so far as to carry them almost everywhere, even when being pursued by predators. These, and other insights on the owl monkey familial hierarchy and community were garnered by Wright due to her National Science Foundation-funded years of research in the rainforests of South America.


Another supremely interesting trait of the adult male owl monkey is their life-long devotion to their female partner. True monogamy in the wild is an extremely rare behavior. This monogamy was verified by the same style of DNA fingerprinting that is used in our legal system to determine paternity.

This same DNA fingerprinting method was used also to disprove the perceived true monogamy of the elegant swan, long the classic icon of love and fidelity. It turns out swans are actually what is termed 'socially monogamous'. While forming a long-term pairing with whom they mate and raise young, they will both occasionally mate outside the relationship.


When viewed through the scope of evolutionary time, the owl monkeys, once diurnal by nature, shifted their habits of sleep and foraging to become nocturnal relatively recently. This, says Wright, was easily discerned by indications from certain characteristics of their eyes. Being not evolutionarily designed for night living, Wright has a very likely hypothesis for why they now choose to live in the darkness.

Through lengthy observation of the owl monkey, Wright noted how the families will snuggle and sleep together in a nest of tangled vines or tree holes while the sun is up only to ascend into the forest canopy to forage for fruits during the night.

Due to the relatively small size of the owl monkey, day sleeping, Wright contends, is a protective adaptation against the large raptors that hunt during the day. Harpy eagles and hawks have been known to dive down and carry off even large monkeys from the top of the canopy during the day. The much smaller owl monkey would certainly be an easy target for these avian predators.

Another benefit of being nocturnal has to do with limiting or eliminating the competition for the fruits of the forest. Owl monkeys and the diurnal larger primates all seek the same foods. By switching to night foraging, the owl monkey is, in effect, “time sharing” the forest with its aggressive and territorial cousins.

Each of our father's deserve our attention and affection this weekend, the one day of the year we set aside to let our father's know just how much we appreciate them. He may be the best father you've had, but as he holds up the t-shirt proclaiming him '#1 Dad', just know that somewhere out there, there is an owl monkey doing it better.