White-fronted Capuchin, Cebus albifrons

The white-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons) is New World monkey that can be found in seven South American countries. Its range includes Peru, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia, Venezuela, Columbia, and Brazil. This monkey can live in many different forest habitats, depending on its location. It can live in flooded forests, arid forests, and in forests growing over white sand. It also thrives in areas with “high caatinga” growth.

The white-fronted capuchin has a large range covering seven countries. In Colombia, it is found from the northern to the southern parts of the Sierra de Santa Marta, from the eastern valley portion of the lower Cauca River to southern portions of Sucre to the west. It can also be found in an area that extends from the Magdalena River to an unknown portion of the Department of Tolima and many other areas of Colombia.

Because the holotype of the white-fronted capuchin does not exist, there has been much confusion on the taxonomy and classification of this species. The original description of this monkey, made in 1812 by Alexander von Humboldt, was not accurate and described a species that is darker in color and displayed a dark tail tip that does not occur in the species. The type location did not support the white-fronted capuchin’s range, as von Humboldt described a tame monkey found approximately 1.8 miles north of any white-fronted capuchin populations known today. Another uncertainty about the taxonomy of the white-fronted capuchin includes the creation of a neotype by Defler and Hernández, named Cebus albifrons albifrons by Hernández C. and Cooper.

There are currently seven subspecies of the white-fronted capuchin recognized by the IUCN, although this number differs from past classifications. In 1949, Hershkovitz classified thirteen subspecies while Hernández-Camacho and Cooper classified and described eight subspecies from Colombia in 1976. In 2001, Colin Groves further reduced the number of subspecies. Most of the confusion that goes with classifying the species and subspecies of this monkey is caused by color variations. One notable subspecies is the Trinidad white-fronted capuchin, which is critically endangered.

The white-fronted capuchin typically varies in size depending on sex. Males are lager than females, with an average weight of 7.5 pounds, while females weigh and average of 6.4 pounds. It is usually colored burgundy and white, although it can be creamy tan in color. Its tooth structure is similar to those of other capuchins, with large premolars and a larger, thick molar that is used for crushing nuts. Its hand displays short fingers and an opposable thumb.

There are many color variations within the subspecies of the white-fronted capuchin, including Cebus albifrons albifrons, which von Humboldt described in 1812. One subspecies from Colombia, Cebus a. cesarae, is lighter in color. Cebus a. cuscinus, which can be found south of the Guamués River, is light brown in color, while Cebus a. malitiosus is almost entirely dark brown with yellowish shoulders.

Groups of the white-fronted capuchin have been studied in two different areas in Peru by Soini and Terborgh, by Defler in Colombia, by Matthews in Ecuador, and by Phillips in Trinidad. In the eastern portion of its Vichada, Colombia range, it lives in groups of around thirty-five individuals. In the southern closed forests of this range, it lives in groups that range between eight to fifteen individuals, most likely because of competition with the tufted capuchin.

The home ranges of these groups vary upon location. In Vichada, one group maintained a home range of .46 square miles, while in Ecuador Matthews calculated that the average home range for a group would be 590 acres. He found that white-fronted capuchin spends up to 54 percent of its day foraging for food, while the rest of its day was split between eating, moving, and socializing.

The white-fronted capuchin lives in groups that are led by alpha males. All members of the group will pay close attention to this male, following his lead if there is danger. Males are tolerant of other males within the group, but are aggressive towards strange males. When Delfer examined one group, he found that the presence of adult males reassured small females, who became increasingly aggressive towards Delfer when the male was present.

The white-fronted capuchin is a highly social species. It can make at least twelve different types of calls including a purring sound when close individuals encounter each other and a “chirriar” noise that young monkey’s use when playing. When threatened, the entire group will emit a “ua” vocalization that sounds like a quiet bark. If there is a clash within the group, many members will emit a squealing noise, while younger individuals emit a whistle when fighting.

Perhaps the most notable social behavior within troops of white-fronted capuchins is the act of breaking branches. Every member of the group will break branches, including young individuals who will break twigs off the branches and toss them to the ground. The alpha male creates the most remarkable display, by striking the branches with his feet and hands through a series of jumps. These branches are typically large, and will make a loud noise as they crash through the trees to the ground. This behavior greatly excites the other members of the group, who jump and chatter loudly during the display.

The white-fronted capuchin is a polygamous species, mating with many members of the group. Although the exact length of pregnancy of this species is unknown, it is thought that it can last up to 160 days, which is the gestation period of the tufted capuchin. Usually, one young capuchin is born, and it will latch onto any part of its mother that it is able to. After a while, it discovers that the best position to hang onto its mother is latching onto her shoulders in a sideways angle. This behavior was examined in El Tuparro National Park. After a few weeks of riding sideways, the baby rode on its mother’s back.

Every member of the group takes interest in newborn capuchins, and if the mother allows, will take any opportunity to examine its genitals. Even males will take part, and once the baby is able to cling properly, it will ride on any member of the group. Although close individuals typically observe playtime, every member will solicit play with the young monkey.

The diet of the white-fronted capuchin is thought to be typical to all capuchin species, consisting of 40 species of plants, fruits, small vertebrates and invertebrates, and bird eggs. These monkeys will forage on the forest floor, as well as within the tress. This diet does vary depending upon the location of the monkeys, however. In the dry season in northern Colombia, the white-fronted capuchin will typically eat more invertebrates than fruit, because fruit is less abundant. It can be seen eating ant eggs and beetles from leaves, which it manipulates in order to get to the food. It can often be seen hunting frogs and drinking water from the plant Phenakospermum guianense  and this seems to be a social phenomenon that each individual learns.

Palm plants are a highly valued plant species among all capuchins, although the types and quantities of palm plant materials eaten differ upon location and species. Capuchins must have a water source within their home range, and will often drink from many sources like ponds and streams if available.

The white-fronted capuchin is known to travel with other species, including the tufted capuchin, the common squirrel monkey, and the Venezuelan red howler. Double-toothed kites will often follow groups of this species, but because it is a predator, it is met with vigilance. Other Colombian predators include the boa constrictor, the ornate Hawk-eagle and the tayra. Although the tayra and the boa constrictor are common predators, the white-fronted capuchin displays little fear of them. After noticing a threat, the most common reaction within the group is to emit a “ya-ya” vocalization and break branches as a sign of strength. However, when a bird of prey is spotted, particularly a male ornate Hawk-eagle, these capuchins will only scream once, and then take to cover.

One subspecies of the white-fronted capuchin, the Trinidad white-fronted capuchin, has been observed manipulating objects around them. They have used leaves as cups to drink water, discarding each leaf after one use. This behavior has been compared with that of the common chimpanzee.

Because the white-fronted capuchin is able to adapt to different habitats and has a relatively large Colombian range, it is not yet considered an endangered species thre. However, some subspecies are most likely highly threatened. C. a. cuscinus has a range that is limited to a small area in the Southwest Colombian Amazon. More research is needed to properly classify the species and its subspecies in order to fully evaluate their conservation statuses. The species is probably not hunted often and it occurs in at least ten different national parks, and it is thought that is lives well around areas populated by humans. The white-fronted capuchin appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.

Image Caption: A young female of White-fronted Capuchi Monkey (Cebus albifrons). Credit: Whaldener Endo/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)