Black-handed spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)

Also known as: Central American spider monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, Mono Colorado, Panama spider monkey, red spider monkey
French: Atèle De Geoffroy
Spanish: Mico
GenusAteles (1)
SizeMale head-and-body length: 39 – 63 cm (2)
Female head-and-body length: 31 – 45 cm (2)
Male tail length: 70 - 86 cm (2)
Female tail length: 64 – 75 cm (2)
Male weight: 7.4 – 9 kg (2)
Female weight: 6 – 8 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). Subspecies: the Azuero spider monkey (A. g. azuerensis), Geoffroy’s spider monkey (A. g. geoffroyi) and Mexican spider monkey (A. g. vellerosus) are classified as Critically Endangered (CR); the ornate spider monkey (A. g. ornatus) and the Yucatán spider monkey (A. g. yucatanensis) as Endangered (EN); the black-browed spider monkey or red-bellied spider monkey (A. g. frontatus) as Vulnerable (VU); and the hooded spider monkey (A. g. grisescens) as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1). A. g. frontatus and A. g. panamensis are listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

Spider monkeys get their name for their extremely long, spidery limbs and prehensile tail, which acts like a fifth limb and is used for suspensory feeding (4) (5). The coat colour of the black-handed spider monkey varies from light buff to reddish-brown or black depending on the subspecies, and, as the common name implies, the hands and feet are usually black (6) (7). The face is hairless, with un-pigmented skin around the eyes and muzzle (8). Infants are born black but lighten in colour in some subspecies during the first five months (6).

The black-handed spider monkey ranges throughout Central America in the countries of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama (4) (5)

An arboreal species that prefers to live in the upper levels of the canopy (4), and is found in primary and secondary rainforest, semi-deciduous forest and cloud forest, as well as mangrove swamp forest (2) (5) (7).

Black-handed spider monkeys are sociable animals and tend to live in multi-male, multi-female groups of 4 to 35 individuals (average around 15), although groups of up to 100 have been reported (2) (7) (8). These are fission-fusion communities, meaning that they usually split up into smaller subgroups to forage, particularly when food resources are scarce (6). This diurnal species relies heavily on a diet of fruit, but will also eat leaves, flowers, and occasionally bark, nuts, seeds, insects, arachnids and eggs (4) (8).

Females actively choose their mates and initiate copulation, and breeding may take place at any time of the year (4). Females give birth to a single infant every two to four years, after a gestation period of seven to eight months (4) (9). Young are normally dependent on their mothers for three years, and reach sexual maturity at four years for females, five for males, after which females usually migrate to other groups (7).

The black-handed spider monkey, which depends upon large areas of tall forest, has suffered from habitat destruction through deforestation and conversion to agricultural lands (7) (8). The species is also hunted for food and the pet trade in Central America, becoming locally extinct in most areas that are accessible to man (7) (8). Unfortunately, the species is a rather vulnerable target due to its conspicuously large group numbers and noisy habits, making it easy to find (8).

A Species Survival Plan has been created for the black-handed spider monkey, which involves a cooperative breeding programme between a number of zoos working together to ensure the survival of the species (10). However, although this monkey is classified overall as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, several subspecies are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, and more in-situ conservation is needed if these subspecies are to be given a good chance of long-term survival in the wild.

For further information on the black-handed spider monkey see:

Rowe, N. (1996) The pictorial guide to the living primates. Pogonias Press, East Hampton, New York.

Authenticated (08/05/2006) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
  2. Richardson, M. (2006) Pers. comm.
  3. CITES (January, 2006)
  4. The Primata (April, 2006)
  5. Science and Nature (April, 2006)
  6. Rowe, N. (1996) The pictorial guide to the living primates. Pogonias Press, East Hampton, New York.
  7. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Minnesota (April, 2006)
  8. Animal Diversity Web (April, 2006)
  9. Monkeyland (April, 2006)
  10. St Louis Zoo (April, 2006)