Costa Rica: White-faced Capuchin

Intelligent, fast and sneaky, you don’t want to turn your back on the White-faced Capuchin. At least you don't if you have lunch around.

The Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica has two beautiful beaches to relax on. After spending the better part of the day in the humid jungle, Theresa and I made our way to one of them to enjoy our picnic lunch and a swim. Afterward, we were relaxing in the shade when a noise emanating right beyond me caught my attention. Turning around I came face-to-face with a White-faced Capuchin deftly attempting to steal our lunch. I think he was as surprised as I was to have gotten caught.

Habitat: Capuchin monkeys, also called white-faced monkeys, occupy the wet lowland forests on Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama and deciduous dry forest on the Pacific coast.

Range: Capuchins live from northern Colombia to Belize; in Costa Rica and Panama they can live in habitats up to 1,500 m in elevation; they may live as high as 2,000 m in Colombia.

Biology and Natural History: These monkeys are distinct in appearance from other Central American primates: they have a black body with a white upper chest and shoulders, and a white face with a black cap on top of their head. They are diurnal and arboreal, and can frequently be seen using their prehensile tails and strong limbs to swing between trees. Group size averages at 15, with one adult male leading the troop. Females have one baby every 1 to 2 years, who clings to the mother for the first 5 or 6 months of life.

Capuchins have the most versatile diet of New World monkeys. Aside from resting, almost all of their time is spent traveling and foraging, beginning at daybreak and moving until they stop for the night. They forage from the forest floor up to the canopy, and the troop can spread far out laterally as well as they forage. When it is available, they will travel to a spring or other sources to drink water. Because they keep a diverse diet, their actions strongly affect the vegetative populations in their habitats. They may do this by dispersing seeds of some species, pruning others, which stimulates branching, and eating insects that would otherwise damage the plants. In other cases, their determined actions have negative effects. For example, while eating the ant colonies that live inside acacia trees, capuchins can destroy the plants to get to the ants.

The main predators of capuchins may be large raptorsboa constrictors, and cats.

Diet: Capuchins are largely insectivorous, but have a diet broad beyond insects: fruits, flowers, invertebrates, as well as the less frequent bird eggs, bird hatchlings, nestling squirrels, and small lizards. They will eat plant material some times as well. The insects they consume include butterfly larvae, ants, cicadas, grasshoppers, and others. These omnivores are discriminating, though. They like to eat ripe fruit, so they first smell, bite, or squeeze it before ingesting it to make sure it is suitable. With soft fruit they often chew it, swallow the juice and flesh, and spit out the undesirable parts; of other fruits, they only eat the seeds; and really hard fruits they may pound or mash to soften them.

Height/Weight: Adults are generally 2.5 to 3.5 kg; males are a little larger than females.

You can read more about the various animals we encountered here. Please your own personal observations or encounters in the comments.


Since I first published this article when returning from Costa Rica there has been a startling observation concerning White-face Capuchin.

Apparently, a group of researchers observed an act of cannibalism involving an infant. Screams sounded from the treetops just before a baby capuchin monkey tumbled to its death. Soon after, a few of the infant’s relatives gathered to consume the lifeless corpse — and scientists saw the whole thing.

It’s a bit of a grisly account but you can read the details here

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