Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Nature’s Little Acrobats

     Monkeys are very lively, intelligent, cute and a lot like humans. They are one of the most amazing animals that exist. Many animals possess human—like characteristics. However, there is just something about primates. Unfortunately, most are threatened or in danger of extinction.
     The spider monkey is no exception. Due to loss of habitat, illegal pet trade and poaching; their numbers are rapidly dwindling. Spider monkeys are very tall, up to 25 inches, skinny animals. Having exceptionally long arms, legs and tail, it’s these characteristics that make them look like giant treetop spiders, and that is how they got their name.
     Found from Mexico to northern Colombia, these little acrobats are truly amazing. Spider monkeys are known as the “trapeze artists” of the animal world. They spend much of their time swinging from limb to limb in the trees high above the jungle floor. They are second only to the gibbon in agility.
     With very flexible shoulders and a prehensile tail they swing gracefully from tree to tree. The tail is used like a fifth arm, can support the entire weight, and is longer than the monkey’s body, over two feet in length in an adult. But, the tail is much more than just a tail. In many ways it is more useful than hands or feet. Being longer and narrower than any of the monkey’s other limbs, it can be used to reach farther and into smaller places. An area of ridged skin at the end also allows it to pick up objects firmly. They can hang by it, swing by it, pick fruit with it, and even throw things with it. Although they have human like-hands, they have no thumbs.
     Spider monkeys are totally arboreal, spending their time in the topmost branches of the tallest forest trees, rarely descending to the jungle floor. They eat mostly fruit, along with nuts, seeds, buds, flowers, insects, and eggs. Spider monkeys play an important role as seed dispensers, seed predators, and even pollinators which is especially critical to the maintenance of forest structure and bio-diversity.
     The spider monkey travels in bands of 10, 20 or more. The groups are constantly changing as individuals come and go. This gives the group the appearance of being unstructured but these fluid groups are actually subgroups of a larger permanent group.
Spider monkeys are social and gregarious by nature; and while they may look sweet and innocent, they can be anything but contrary to popular belief, they don’t make good pets. But that is a whole other story.
     Here are a few more interesting facts: They can be heard up to a mile away. They can see up to two miles away. A life span of a spider monkey is about 20-30 years. They are very good swimmers, though they prefer not to deal with water. They have been known to aggravate jaguars from up in the canopy, throwing sticks and “stuff” at them. (The jaguar hopes the monkey will slip and fall to the ground for lunch.) Spider monkeys have three toes on each foot. The average weight for spider monkeys is 25 pounds. For their size they are extremely strong. An adult spider monkey can drag a couch or a picnic table with his or her tail!