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Common squirrel monkey

Scientific name: Saimiri sciureusSquirrel monkey

Country: Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela

Continent: South America

Diet: Fruit - frugivore, insects - insectivore, flowers, nectar - nectivore

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Tropical rainforest, tropical dry forest

Conservation status: Least concern

Relatives: Other new world primates e.g. white-faced saki, black howler monkey, black spider monkey

Description: The squirrel monkey's tail is not prehensile but it used in balancing as the animal jumps through the trees. Their body length is about 32cm (12.5 inches) with a slightly longer tail 41cm (16 inches). Males are heavier (750g) than females (500g). Their coat is short, greyish or olive in colour except for its bright yellow legs. Its white face has a peak of dark fur on the forehead and a dark muzzle.

Lifestyle: They are active during the day, spending most of their time in the middle level of the forest, moving from tree to tree looking for the fruits, flowers and insects that make up their diet. They are excellent climbers and leapers and can travel long distances through the forest running along and leaping between branches. Only occasionally do they come down to the ground.

Family & friends: Squirrel monkeys' social relationships are very complex. They live in large groups, subdivided into adult male bands, mother-and-infant bands, and juveniles, except during the mating season. Females often form a special bond with another female. The size of the groups can vary from 20 - 35 up to as many as 200 or more in some areas. They all sleep together at night, and then divide up to go and look for food. In the mating season the mature males become very active, put on a lot of weight and seek the company of females.

Keeping in touch: Females utter a "chuck" call that helps them to keep in touch while feeding in dense vegetation. Squirrel monkeys also spread urine on their hands and feet, perhaps leaving a scent trail wherever the monkey walks. Male monkeys remind other monkeys who's boss by showing off their private parts.

Growing up: Births are carefully timed, occurring during a very short season, corresponding to the time of greatest rainfall. One youngster is born after a gestation of 150 - 170 days and the males take no part in caring for it. The youngster is carried on the mother's back from the first day, clinging on tightly. After about 5 - 10 weeks it starts to leave the mother, explore its surroundings and take some food and by 5 - 10 months it can be almost independent of the mother. Females mature at about two years, males four years. They can live as long as 20 years in captivity.

Squirrel monkeys carefully smear food on their tails using their hands. Smelly tails might be important to help identify close friends and family in the tangle of the forest.

Conservation news: Not threatened