Cebus capucinus, Costa Rica

Capuchin Monkey- The smartest monkey on the planet?!?

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Often known as the organ-grinder monkey, and fairly famous in North American media, our Animal of the Week is none other than the White-Headed Capuchin Monkey! These seriously are some of the most intelligent monkeys on the planet, and have become famous for their roles in movies, and put to use as assistants for the disabled. White Headed Capuchins are native to Central America and a little bit of South America, and play a very important role in the rainforest, similar to bees, as they help disperse seeds and pollen.

Are Capuchin Monkeys dangerous?

Many people are drawn in by their smaller size and adorable features, but make no mistake, capuchin monkeys can be as destructive and dangerous as bigger and “scarier” exotic animals. These monkeys reach their sexual maturity at 5 years of age, and especially in captivity they can turn dangerous and aggressive during this time. While Capuchins are highly intelligent for sure, they still have primal instincts and needs, and often lack impulse control. This can lead to erratic behavior, and becoming upset or scared very easily by things such as different sounds and body language.

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Where can you find one in the wild?

Countries in Central America are the main range where White Headed Capuchin Monkeys can be found, although they also reach into a small portion of South America. Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica are all countries with big capuchin monkey populations, and they are one of the most common monkeys found in national parks across Central America. The actual habitat these monkeys live in tends to be a variety of forests, from evergreen to mangrove, and even dry or moist forests, although they seem to prefer primary aka “old-growth” forests.

What diseases do Capuchin Monkeys carry?

Zoonoses are not the body parts you use to breathe at the zoo! Instead, these are diseases that can be transferred between animals and humans, such as ebola. Monkeys are always talked about in the discussion on zoonoses and infectious disease, because they often have a lot of crossover with humans being in the same family of primates. Herpes B virus is one especially nasty infection that can spread from monkey saliva to humans, and why these animals should always be handled by experts, no matter how cute they are.

Can you legally own one?

Primate pets have always been a big controversy in the animal world. In the USA, individual states have different laws and requirements on owning primates as pets, and who would have access to these animals. Sadly there are many across the country that breed or own these monkeys, whether legally or illegally. Depending on location they can be legal as pets, and with their high intelligence and lifespan they can often make strong companions. However make no mistake that these are wild animals, and even when getting one as an infant, it is a serious commitment to care for one of these beautiful creatures.

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What do they like to eat?

Like many monkeys, White-Headed Capuchin Monkeys are omnivores and have a bit of variety to their diet. Plant matter does make up a majority of their diet, consisting of things such as berries, seeds, fruit, and flowers. Insects are often a big part of a monkeys diet as we all know from the classic imagery of monkeys grooming each other and eating bugs out of their fur. In addition to insects, other arthropods like spiders, and smaller birds mammals and eggs can all make up the rest of their favorite foods.

White Headed Capuchin in Panama