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The Capuchin Monkey

Updated on November 20, 2009

A very entertaining monkey, the capuchin is the one most used by organ grinders, and is now the commonest monkey in captivity in Europe and the United States.

Authorities disagree as to the number of species of capuchin. Some say there are a dozen or more, each species showing considerable variation, while others split these into many more species, each showing little variation in body form. There are, however, two easily distinguishable groups of capuchins.

Photo courtesy of Frans de Waal
Photo courtesy of Frans de Waal

One has tufts of hair over the eyes or along the side of the head and has a rather uniform coat of greyish-brown hair.

The other has no tufts on the head and has a patterned coat with patches of white on the face, throat and chest.

They are small monkeys, head and body measuring 12 — 15 in. The tail, which may be 2 ft long, is prehensile and is used to pick up objects out of reach of the hands.

The name capuchin is derived from the resemblance of the hair on the head to the pointed cowl or capuche of Franciscan monks. The capuchins are also known as ring-tails from their habit of carrying the tail with the tip coiled up.

The home of the capuchins is in the forests of South America, especially those with no undergrowth. They range from Costa Rica to Paraguay and are also found on Trinidad and are generally confined to fairly low ground.

Gregarious life

Capuchins are strictly tree-dwellers; the weeping capuchins apparently leave the trees only to drink. They live in troops ranging from a small family party to a loose group of up to 40. Each troop keeps to regular tracks through the forest and has a small but regular range, which may overlap the ranges of other troops. Sometimes several troops may share a track, each using it at different times. The troop moves through the trees in single file and in a regular order. First come the half-grown young of both sexes, followed by the adult females and the adult males, the females with young bringing up the rear.

The main reason for the capuchins' popularity is their intelligence, which is often as great as that of chimpanzees. Many tests have shown how they can use insight to work out problems, rather than use laborious trial-and-error attempts at 'solution. They will use sticks to draw food towards the bars of their cages, and get fruit suspended out of reach by moving a box under it and climbing up. They also work out their own problems spontaneously. One capuchin had the habit of throwing things at people. It realised that throwing missiles at their feet had little effect so it took to standing on a chair to get a higher trajectory. The same monkey learnt to use a hammer properly, and another, when too old to crack Brazil nuts in its teeth, smashed them with a marrow bone.

Helping Hands


Fruit is the main food of capuchins, and they will raid orange, maize and chocolate bean plantations. They also eat shoots and leaves as well as any small animals they can find. Insects, especially butterflies, are caught on the wing and small birds and mammals overpowered. Spiders and grubs are collected by prising up bark. Hard fruit, nuts, beetles and birds' eggs are banged against branches until soft or split open before being eaten.

Very Clever


Capuchins have one baby at a time, born after about 6 months gestation. For the first weeks of its life the baby lives on its mother's back, hanging on to her fur with its hands and feet and wrapping its tail around her body. It leaves this position only at feeding times. After a while the baby starts to crawl around its mother's back and examine things. It then begins to move away from her for short distances, while she holds it by the tail in case it slips and falls.

A few months later the baby becomes much more independent and its mother will push it away if it tries to climb on her. This is not surprising, for capuchins grow very rapidly, and at 6 months are nearly full grown. During this time, the father also helps care for the baby, and if it becomes separated from its parents and cries, other members of the troop will come to its assistance and bring it back to the troop.

Would you like a Capuchin monkey of your own?

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    • profile image

      faith 5 years ago

      I have a very playful one year old son and he seems to get along with our the dogs very well. ***I wanted to know how do capuchin monkeys get along with small chrilden?***

    • profile image

      furtwas 5 years ago

      all monkeys are adorable

    • Bits-n-Pieces profile image

      Bits-n-Pieces 6 years ago

      hillbillymama, sounds like it was a scam from the get go. Chances are, you'll never get that money back. Or if you do, it'll cost you far more than the original $700. But I do hope you get a capuchin monkey. Scam free and legal. Talk to people who work in pet shops, they might be able to help you.

    • lindatymensky profile image

      lindatymensky 6 years ago

      Informative and sensitive article on these wonderful creatures. Nice pictures.

    • hillbillymama profile image

      hillbillymama 6 years ago from Bullhead City,Arizona

      For what ever it's worth i almost had a baby monkey like the above but the only thing happened after 700.00 DOLLARS LATER i got defrauded but willing to get it anouther shot it was the closes thing to a real baby i would ever get and now i am fighting to get my money back every day i am very upset and it's harder everyday to cope.