Tuesday, March 14, 2017

10 Reasons Spider Monkeys could be the #2017MMM Champions

Most of the winners of March Mammal Madness tend to be large-bodied, terrestrial mammals, so it might be easy to overlook a twenty-pound, arboreal frugivore. But don't let their small size, endangered status*, or predominantly vegetarian** diet fool you! They are fierce competitors!

So, here are 10 reasons why spider monkeys are awesome and have a real shot at being the #2017MMM champions.

Adult Female Margarita at Brookfield Zoo.

1. They are smarty-pants! They are highly encephalized, with very large brains for their body size

2. We've observed them using tools, and they have a number of social traditions.

3. They have self-control. On inhibition tasks, they perform comparably to chimpanzees and orangutans (and better than capuchins and macaques)!

4. They are speedy and FLY through the trees. I'm pretty sure that they only way I was able to follow spider monkeys is that they let me tag along.

5. They are ferocious killers. Seriously. Male coalitions engage in territorial raids and lethal aggression, and there are observations of infanticide as well.

6. Their prehensile tail assists in semi-brachiation, but can also be used as an extra hand. I used to know a captive spider monkey who would use her tail to check my pockets for hidden snacks. Their tail even has "fingerprints" (aka, dermatoglyphics) to help them grip!

Look at that those tail "fingerprints!"


7. Although they are highly arboreal and dependent on tropical forest, they can travel on the ground. When males engage in raids, they walk silently, single-file on the ground (just the way chimpanzees do on raids)!

8. Although there is limited evidence for this, reports from a re-introduced population in Barro Colorado Island suggest that they may swim short distances between islands!

9. They tend to be lefties, just like me! In humans, unexpected left-handeness can provide a strategic advantage in sports and competition.

10. They are so darn cute. Yes, I know that MMM is about combat, not a #cuteoff, but since animals use a variety of tactics to win these battles, surely charming the opposition is a legitimate strategy?

Infant male Judah (ca 2010). Isn't he the cutest?!

*Most Ateles species are endangered, but they range from vulnerable to critically endangered.
**Spider monkeys are predominantly frugivores, but in addition to fruit they do eat leaves, flowers, and insects. Most of the insects they consume, like fig wasps, are within the fruit they eat.


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