Squirrel monkeys are New World primates (there are several sub-species), living in South and Central America. They are small, the largest reaching only a little over a foot in length. Their tails, however, are longer than that by several inches. Squirrel monkeys live in groups with both males and females and interact quite egalitarianly meaning that all members are treated as equals. It has been observed that there is almost no hierarchy and disputes over dominance happen from time to time on an individual basis. Male squirrel monkeys interact with each other more than the females do with each other, except for during pregnancies.
All of these facts are generally true for all species of squirrel monkey, except for those who live in Peru, where the social organization is different. There, the females are without a doubt the dominant ones in any group, and, like elephants, the males move away from the groups into which they were born while females stick together in those groups. In these groups, there is a lot of aggression between the females and the males stay out of the way during these sparring interactions.
In all squirrel monkey groups females are responsible for caring for the babies. All the females give birth around the same time and become fiercely protective then. The males do also protect the young in most group except for Peru, again, where they aren’t allowed into the group to care for the babies. To quote an article from the National Primate Research Center, “[p]lay is the most common behavior seen in squirrel monkeys younger than one year of age,” which I felt was a sentence worth sharing. The babies form strong bonds and, for the males especially, these friendships last throughout their lives. They are taken care of for the first year and they are permitted to just explore their world and play.
Squirrel monkeys have up to 30 different types of calls which they use to communicate with each other. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of compartmentalization with these calls, as one type could be used in a variety of contexts. The same sound used with mother-infant communication could also indicate alarms, and they may make twittering sounds when they are feeling isolated, or when they are exploring, or as a greeting to one another. They do have a specific sound, though, to warn of falcons, who are their primary natural predators.
These little monkeys move very quickly through the tree tops. You might be surprised to know that their tails, like those of some other primates, are not used for climbing and are not prehensile, but it does help them to balance. As you can see in the photo on the left, their tails are longer than their entire bodies.
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