Brown capuchin monkeys are highly social animals. They form groups of between 8 and 15 individuals, dominated by an alpha male. They eat insects, fruits and other plant matter, and will sometimes also feed on birds’ eggs. Unlike other monkeys, they can often be seen on the ground, walking between trees too far apart to jump across.
The preferred habitat of the brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) is moist tropical or subtropical forest, and they are particularly at home among the variety of typical Amazon ecosystems protected by Tambopata National Reserve. They tend to prefer understory and mid-canopy levels, and this means they can often be spotted on forest trails during our ecotourism excursions, and are relatively easy to photograph when they are seen.
Brown capuchin monkeys vary in color from light brown to yellow, or even black. In all individuals, their feet, tail and hands are black or a very dark brown. Because their shoulders and belly tend to be a lighter color than the rest of their body, they are readily identifiable in the forest, and distinguishable from the many other species of monkey that inhabit Tambopata National Reserve, and our own Tambopata Ecolodge Private Conservation Area. Another identifying feature of brown capuchin monkeys is the patch of black fur found on the top of their head, and the black markings on each side of their face. Also, they have black tufts of fur above their ears, which is why they are also known as “tufted capuchin monkeys”.
Brown capuchins have a body length of between 32 and 57 centimeters (13 to 22 inches). Their tail usually measures between 38 and 56 centimeters (15 to 22 inches), and they can weigh anything between 1.9 and 4.8 kilograms (4.2 to 10.6 pounds). Males are usually larger and heavier than females, and both genders tend to be more powerfully built than other capuchin species.
Despite the fact that they tend to feed during the daytime, brown capuchins will often risk descending to the forest floor, either to forage for food, or to cover the distance between trees that are spaced widely apart. While troops of brown capuchins are usually dominated by a single male, mixed troops led by more than one male have also been observed. When the group feeds, it is usually the dominant male and his closest associates that eat first, while the rest of the troop must wait.
After a gestation period of around six months, females will continue to feed their young for at least nine months. However, and unusually for such a relatively small monkey, brown capuchins do not reach adulthood and full sexual maturity until their seventh year.
Brown capuchins are highly cooperative when foraging. When a member of the troop discovers a potential meal, it will often whistle to alert the entire group to the food source. Fascinatingly, in some populations, in both captivity and in the wild, brown capuchins have been observed using tools. These range from rocks employed to break nuts, to sticks for feeding on insects, demonstrating not only their manual dexterity, but also their problem-solving and cooperative abilities.