Belonging to the genus Saimiri, squirrel monkeys populate the tropical forests of Central and South America. They choose to mate between September and November so that they can time their birth season to fall during peak rainfall. This could be because wet season is abundant in food supply.
Saimiri sciureus is the scientific name of the Common squirrel monkey. Fortunately, this species is not threatened or endangered. However, the Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii), and Black squirrel monkey species (Saimiri vanzolinii) are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
How Do They Look?
The squirrel monkey is characterized by its short and close fur. The shoulder has olive-colored fur, while the back and extremities are covered with yellowish-orange fur. The monkey's throat and ears are white, and mouth is black. Its dark eyes and white face gives the impression of a skull. Given this appearance, this mammal has earned the name "Totenkopfaffe" or the "death's head monkey" in German.
Where Do They Live?
Squirrel monkeys prefer inhabiting areas that offer good vegetation. In this way, they can stay low and avoid birds of prey, and other predators on the ground. Most of the time, they can be seen occupying the middle canopy. These animals are primarily arboreal, and make rare or no descents to the ground.
What Do They Eat?
Squirrel monkeys are active during the day, and travel long distances in search of food. Their primary diet comprises a wide variety of fruits and insects. At times, small vertebrates, flowers, nuts, seeds, and eggs are also on their menu. When food is not in plenty, these monkeys survive mostly on nectar.
Their Social Structure
Squirrel monkeys are social animals who follow a complex social structure. They live in large groups which may comprise more than one sexually matured male and female, and offspring. Such groups may be formed by up to 500 members. Occasionally, a large group may be seen breaking into small troops. Female squirrel monkeys have a special bond with other females in the group.
Some Rather Interesting Facts
It is only during infancy, that the tail of a squirrel monkey is prehensile. When the animal reaches adulthood, the tail is mostly used for balancing which helps the animal jump from one tree to another.
On an average, a male squirrel monkey weighs about 750 g and a female, 500 g. The upper canine teeth of a male is larger than that of a female. The monkey can attain a growth of 25 to 35 cm. It has a black-tipped bushy tail, and it can be as long as 35 to 42 cm.
Squirrel monkeys are excellent climbers and leapers. Their thighs are relatively shorter than their lower legs, which make them strong jumpers.
Baby squirrel monkeys remain clung onto their mothers' back for the early part of their lives. The time for the babies to gradually leave their mother occurs after about 5 to 10 weeks. During this time, the babies start to get familiar with their surroundings, and they start foraging on their own. After 8 to 10 months, they get matured enough to take care of their food and survival.
These monkeys are known to make use of a wide variety of vocal calls for communicating with other members of the group. Scientists have been able to identify about 25 to 30 different calls that these mammals use during activities such as foraging, hunting, escaping predators, and mating.
Mostly, birds of prey such as hawks and eagles, and snakes are the main predators of squirrel monkeys.
Female squirrel monkeys have what is known as a 'psuedo-penis'. It is not a true penis but a sufficiently enlarged clitoris that resembles a penis in males. The females use it to exhibit their dominance over smaller members of their group.
Male squirrel monkeys reach maturity at an age of about 4 years, while females, about 2.5 years. These mammals mate between September and November, and the birth season occurs during the greatest period of rainfall. 150-170 days is the gestation period. Males do not get involved in any parental duties, which leaves the mothers as the sole responsible individuals.
During the mating season, male squirrel monkeys put on weight and double their size. Scientists believe that the probable reason for this is an increase in spermatogenesis (development of spermatozoa).
A squirrel monkey named 'Baker' was a part of a space program held by the United States. The monkey was sent into space, and made a safe trip back to earth.
These monkeys possess commendable dexterity. This is evident by their strong grip, which helps them hold on to tree branches, their prey, and open fruits with ease.
In the wild, these mammals can live up to an average of 15 years, and 20 years in captivity.
The way squirrel monkeys mark their territory is also one interesting fact. They urinate on their hands and feet. Then they rub their limbs all over their body, leaving a scent trail wherever they walk. Scientists believe that this behavior helps these animals track other members of the group, control their body temperature or is a form of self-cleaning.
Female squirrel monkeys enter menopause when they are still in their mid-teens.
To conclude with one last fact, when it comes to showcasing their dominance, male squirrel monkeys display their genitalia to other members of the group, as it is in the case of females. Some cute shameless creatures of the jungle they are!