Squirrel monkeys or saimiri sciureus are neotropical primates which belong to the cebidae family. As all squirrel monkeys, they have a long non-prehensile tail with a black tip. Adults are 2-2.5 feet high and about 1-3 pounds weight. Their most striking feature is the white mask on their face and their black snout −that can also be dark chestnut coloured. The mask on their eyes has the shape of a Gothic arch forming a white V.
Habitat and behaviour
They can be seen from central and north-eastern Brazil until western Andes in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guyana and Surinam. How much they are is nowadays a mystery. It can be seen in a lot of different habitats. It can survive even in forests where human activity has changed their natural environment −but only when they are provided with enough insects and fruits. These diurnal animals live in groups of 10-500 individuals (males and females), depending on the environment they live in. They are not very territorial. They usually avoid any conflict when they meet other groups.
Given that this species is able to survive in human-altered environments, it is not considered to be an endangered species. However, squirrel monkeys are more and more hunted to be sold as pets.
Diet and feeding
Studies on saimiri sciureus describe these animals as a frugivorous and insectivorous species. They eat fruits, berries, walnuts, flowers, shoots, seeds, leaves, gums, insects, arachnids and small vertebrates. However, their short digestive tract makes them prefer insects to plants.
These animals usually look for fruits in the early morning and then they stop looking for them and start chasing insects until the end of the day.
Squirrel monkeys live in groups which are bigger than the groups formed by any other neo-tropical primate species. The number of individuals in a group may vary according to the environment they live in. Groups of 25-45 individuals have been seen. There are several males and several females, of whom 65% babies or young specimens, 29% adult females and 6% adult males.
A group in captivity was studied in Florida and researches concluded that groups subdivide into male groups and female groups. Females express signs of cohesion by showing physical closeness. It is also mentioned that there are strict linear hierarchy within both the males’ subgroups and the females’. However, hierarchy is much more evident within the males’ subgroup.
Gestation takes about five months and a half and then only one baby is born. During the mating season, males usually accumulate fat around their shoulders. Babies sleep during the first two weeks and they are feed by their mother. Two of five weeks later they start separating from the mother and being carried by other members of the group. Six months after they are born, mothers stop breastfeeding them.