Black-Handed Spider Monkey

Black-Handed Spider Monkey

[ Ateles geoffroyi ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 15 to 27 inches
TAIL LENGTH: 23 to 29 inches
WEIGHT: 12 to 15 pounds
WILD DIET: fruit and leaves, termites, and occasionally bark
ZOO DIET: primate chow, bananas, oranges, apples, sweet potatoes, lettuce, spinach, celery, eggs, onions, peanuts, sunflower seeds
DISTRIBUTION: Southern Mexico and all of Central America;black-handed spider monkeys are under threat because of habitat destruction and hunting; they are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment, and are thereby indicator species for the health of the ecosystem
HABITAT: mostly rain forest, but also evergreen, semi-deciduous, and deciduous forest


New World Acrobat

A prominent profile
Spider monkeys have a distinctive appearance, even in relation to other monkeys. No other primate looks quite like them. Spider monkeys have a prominent face, with whitish rings around the eyes. The rings contrast against a mostly black face. Spider monkeys are highly variable in coloration; some are black with a white or yellowish-white chest, others are mostly yellowish-grey. No matter what color, the fur is usually coarse and stringy over most of the body. Black-handed spider monkeys have black fur around the hands, feet, elbows, and knees, giving this species its common name.

Spider monkeys are almost perfectly designed for life in the trees. They have very long arms, hands, and feet. Their thumbs are almost non-existent---they swing from branch to branch using their palms, so thumbs would just get in the way! With these specialized limbs, spider monkeys can grasp branches and vines that would otherwise be out of reach.

In contrast to the gangly arms and legs, they have a short, compact body, which is a big help for getting around in tangled branches and vines. The combination of long parts and short parts gives spider monkeys an acrobatic advantage. But an extra acrobatic addition comes from the tail!

A tail that comes in handy
Spider monkeys sport a tail that seems to have a life of its own. The tail waves around, curls and uncurls, and even grasps branches. But the tail isn't acting on its ownspider monkeys use it like a fifth limb. When jumping around fifty feet above the forest floor, five "hands" are definitely better than four. With their specialized hands and grasping (prehensile) tail, spider monkeys are among the most agile climbers in the forest, moving through the trees with grace and speed. They climb hand over hand, suspended under branches. Five long limbs working together give this monkey a spider-like appearancehence the name!

More details on the tail
The tale of the tail isn't over! On the underside of the end of a spider monkey’s tail is a fleshy pad that looks and functions a lot like the palm of a hand. The pad has no hair, because hair would slip on slippery branches. Handy, isn't it?

Fruit is favored
The availability of food determines much of spider monkey's social structure and behavior. About 75% of their diet is fruit. During the fruiting seasons, spider monkeys live in groups of up to 20 or so. They defend this area of plenty from other primates, until they've relieved the trees of their fruity bounty. When fruit is scarce and there isn't enough high-quality food to support the larger groups, spider monkeys break up into groups of between two and eight members. At these times they eat mostly leaves; not as nutritious as fruit, but abundantly available. During the next big fruiting season, the larger groups again assemble to feed and live together.

Black-hand spider monkeys at Brookfield Zoo
Tropic World: South America is home to the zoo's group of spider monkeys. They share their large enclosure with several other species of South American primate.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society