Spider monkeys are not just charming and charismatic denizens of the rainforest, but they are also behaviorally complex and evolutionarily fascinating. Apart from living in complex fission-fusion societies similar to chimpanzees, these jungle gymnasts travel at breakneck speeds high in the canopy seeking fruits on which to gorge themselves, all the while dispersing seeds for hundreds of tree species. Without spider monkeys, the famous diversity of tropical forests would suffer — a tragedy for certain — but it barely scratches the surface of what would be lost if these endangered primates slipped away.
In this episode, we discuss everything spider monkey: from the anatomy that allows such jaw-dropping acrobatics, to ways that they might be saved so that future generations might also fall in love with these spectacular creatures.
Listen below, or find One World Science on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.
Our featured guests on this episode include:
Behavioral ecologist Andrés Link, who you can see discussing brown spider monkeys in this video about seed dispersal and forest fragmentation. He is also featured in this this National Geographic video talking about the amazing anatomy of spider monkeys alongside some wonderful footage.
Robert Wallace of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is the Director of the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program in northwestern Bolivia and southeastern Peru. He was also the leader of the Identidad Madidi expedition. You can follow Identidad Madid on Facebook and Instagram.
Extra thanks to our contributors:
Cecilia Coro, for relating her rare experience of witnessing spider monkey copulation.
Gaspard Renault, for conducting the interview with Nena.
Cristina Boronat, for voicing the English translation.
The music for this episode:
Intro music was by Heavenly Queen (used by permission). Other featured artists provided through Creative Commons licensing include: Eaters (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US), Lobo Loco (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), Doctor Turtle (CC BY 4.0), Bio Unit (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), Tepalcate (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), and Podington Bear (CC BY-NC 3.0).
Learn more about things mentioned in this episode:
If you were inspired by the discussion of the Janzen-Connell hypothesis, but want more evidence: check out this meta analysis of over 40 years of experimental evidence.
Brain size and the drivers of greater encephalization in spider monkeys and chimps might have you curious whether it is related to diet, feeding ecology, and/or social complexity, this Smithsonian article is a nice place to start further reading. Then you can also read this study, which gave cognitive tasks to a variety of primates to see if social demands related to fission-fusion correlated with improved performance. One pertinent spoiler: Across 5 tasks, chimpanzees and spider monkeys significantly outperformed gorillas, capuchin monkeys, and long-tailed macaques.
Those who want to hone their spider monkey knowledge may also wish to read:
- Sex ratio and maternal rank in wild spider monkeys: when daughters disperse (M. McFarland Symington)
- Factors influencing spider monkey habitat use and ranging patterns (Robert Wallace)
- Seasonal variations in black-faced black spider monkey(Ateles chamek) habitat use and ranging behavior in a southern Amazonian tropical forest (Robert Wallace)
- Spider monkey conservation in the 21st century: recognizing risks and opportunities (Robert Wallace and Gabriel Ramos-Fernandez)
- Effects of predation risk on the grouping patterns of white‐bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth belzebuth) in Western Amazonia (Andrés Link and Antony Di Fiore)
- Diet of the Critically Endangered Brown Spider Monkey (Ateles hybridus) in an Inter‐Andean Lowland Rainforest in Colombia (Andrés Link, Nelson Galvis, Mateo Marquez, Jane Guerrero, Camila Solano, and Pablo, R. Stevenson)
- Seed dispersal by spider monkeys and its importance in the maintenance of neotropical rain-forest diversity (Andrés Link and Anthony Di Fiore)
- Demography and life history of a group of white‐bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth) in western Amazonia (Andrés Link, Anthony Di Fiore, and Krista Milich)
- Aggregated seed dispersal by spider monkeys limits recruitment to clumped patterns in Virola calophylla (Sabrina E. Russo and Carol K. Augsperger)
- Aggression and conflict management at fusion in spider monkeys (Filippo Aureli and Colleen M. Schaffner)
- Behavioral and Physiological Responses to Fruit Availability of Spider Monkeys Ranging in a Small Forest Fragment (Rebecca Rimbach, Andrés Link, Andrés Montes-Rojas, Anthony Di Fiore, Michael, Heistermann, and Eckhard W. Heymann)
- The Evolution of Brachiation in Ateline Primates, Ancestral Character States and History (Andrea L. Jones)
- Protein content of diets dictates the daily energy intake of a free-ranging primate (Annika M. Felton, Adam Felton, David Raubenheimer, Stephen J. Simpson, William J. Foley, Jeff T. Wood, Ian R. Wallis, and David B. Lindenmayer)