Tufted Capuchins

Cebus apella of the Cebidae family is better known as the tufted capuchin.  The tufted capuchin is a New World primate located in South America.  Tufted capuchins spend most of their time within the mid-canopy of rain-forests; however they do sometimes move to the ground to play and forage.

The unique tufts of hair above the ears make this capuchin appear as if it is wearing a cap

The tufted capuchin gets its name from the tufts of dark hair that form above its ears, that makes it appear as if it is wearing a cap (or Mickey Mouse ears).  Tufted capuchins are sexually dimorphic, with the average weight of the male being 34% larger than that of the female.  Wild male tufted capuchins have an average weight of 8 lbs, and the average female weighs 5.5 lbs; though captive capuchins can grow larger.  Tufted capuchins move quadrupedally, and have strong prehensile tails.  However, tufted capuchins are the only species of capuchin that carries its tail in a tight coil.  A tufted capuchin rarely uses its tail while traveling, but uses it for balance while it is feeding.

Geographic range of the tufted capuchin
Geographic range of the tufted capuchin

Tufted capuchin females mostly mate with the dominant male.  The dominant male rarely strays away from the group during the last few days of the females estrus cycle; the entire cycle lasts for 21 days.  The pregnancy lasts for five months and the birth of twins is extremely rare.  Females raise the young and the infants cling to the mother’s back.  If an infant does become separated from its mother, other tufted capuchins will respond the the infants distress calls.  Males will leave their group at maturity (7 years); whereas females stay within the group and are considered mature at 4 years of age.

Tufted capuchins hunt for food in groups.  If one of the capuchins finds a food source (and there is enough for more than just one individual) the capuchin will give a whistling call to alert the others so the food can be shared.  The omnivorous capuchins diet can consist of nuts, insects, fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves, and sometimes even frogs.  Tufted capuchins famously use stones to crack open nuts.  Capuchins strip the outer fiber of the nut with their teeth, and will place the nut out in the sun to dry.  Capuchins will then use a stone to repeatedly hammer the nut until it cracks.

Tufted capuchins exhibit some odd behaviors that make them fascinating to learn about.  They often cover their hands and feet in their own urine to attract mates (and possibly to reduce stress).  Tufted capuchins also exhibit extensive tool use.  They will use rocks to dig holes to reach tubers.  In captivity, they will eat fruit over sponges so they can later drink from the sponges.  They use containers to hold water.  Some captive tufted capuchins have even been observed manufacturing tools out of stone, producing simple flakes and cores.  Not all tufted capuchins use tools however.  Some primatologists suggest tool use manifests only when these capuchin groups lack food sources and thus spend lots of time on the ground.

Pixie at the Popcorn Park Zoo
Pixie at the Popcorn Park Zoo

Pixie is a tufted capuchin that is now located in the Popcorn Park Zoo in New Jersey.  A Pennsylvania couple purchased Pixie.  She was well behaved, very sociable, and enjoyed things such as opening the mail and eating sunflower seeds.  However, when Pixie aged into her teens, she began to see her woman owner as a threat and attacked her on several occasions.  At age 21, the couple decided to donate her to Popcorn Park.  Pixie is considered highly socialized, and often shows good manners.  She will return any item she no longer wants to the zookeeper who gave it to her.  She enjoys looking at photographs,and has an extensive vocabulary that allows her to communicate her needs to the zookeepers.  Pixie is now 30 years old.  Captive tufted capuchins typically live into their 40s.

Because of their intelligence, tufted capuchins are popular pets to have across the world.  They are also heavily hunted by humans.  Despite this, tufted capuchins are not endangered, and their status is classified as “of least concern.”  Tufted capuchins can be found at the San Diego Zoo where there is a group of 6 males and 9 females.  These capuchins were previously used in behavioral studies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Sometimes referred to as "Einstein Monkeys", tufted capuchins are known for their tool use and high intelligence
Sometimes referred to as “Einstein Monkeys”, tufted capuchins are known for their tool use and intelligence


Sources:  http://seancrane.com/2010/11/tufted-capuchin-einstein-monkey/ , http://www.ahscares.org/showarchive.asp?id=30 , http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/tufted_capuchin , http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cebus_apella.html ,  http://planetofthemonkeys.com/tufted-capuchin/ , http://www.livescience.com/31047-capuchin-monkeys-arrive-san-diego-zoo.html , 

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