Spider Monkey

By Madeleine Roberts

The Life of a Spider Monkey

Spider Monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America. They stay up high in the top part of the canopy to keep safe from their predators. Leopards and jaguars will eat a spider monkey if and when they catch them. These monkeys mainly eat fruit but sometimes branch out and will eat leaves, flowers, and insects. They live in groups of about 35. (1)
One of the spider monkey's most widely known adaptations is its prehensile tail. They have very long, and very flexible tails that have hairless tips and have grooves on the skin. This can be compared to fingerprints. Because they have such a long and strong tail, spider monkeys tend to use their tail for balance instead of using their arms and hands like most monkeys. Their tail can be referred to as a fifth hand. (1)


The spider monkey's ancestors have always been questioned. There is one theory that the monkeys were once with the woolly monkeys. They were separated and taken to Central/South America and adapted to their environment. Woolly monkeys also have a prehensile tail. They look very similar to spider monkeys.(2)
Another theory is that the spider monkey is related to a species known as "Montanea anthropomorphus." Fossils of this species were found in Cuba and looked like the fossils of a spider monkey. Remains of other spider monkeys have also been found in Cuba. It is thought that natives brought the spider monkeys over. (3)

Related Organisms

One of the spider monkeys close relatives is the woolly spider. They were thought to be separated from each other to form two different species. They look very similar and both have a prehensile tail.
Howler monkeys are also part of the New World monkeys. They also live in South and Central America. Just like spider and woolly monkeys, howler monkeys have long and prehensile tails that are very useful. The diet of this monkey is nearly identical to that of a spider monkey's.
These three types of monkeys are all very close in their cladogram. (4)

Fossil Record

Fossils for spider monkeys have been found in several areas. Some of those include Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. Ancestors and relatives of spider monkeys have also been found in Cuba. The theory of spider monkeys evolving from woolly monkeys has not yet been proved and backed up by fossils.(2) But fossils from the "Montanea anthropomorphus" in Cuba have been linked to spider monkeys.(5)


As I've mentioned before, spider monkeys and their relatives have prehensile tails. Long, strong tails with hairless ends and fingerprint-like skin grooves on the end. These tails help them climb and balance as they walk. They can act like a fifth hand and help them grab food or branches so that they can swing from tree to tree.(1) Their skeleton structure allows them to throw themselves from place to place with ease and without pain as shown in the video below.(6)
Spider Monkey Swinging from a Tree in Guatemala


The website attached has many "family trees" and cladograms within it. These graphs show parts of the ancestry of the spider monkey.

Geographical distribution

Spider monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America.(1) Woolly monkeys, one of their close and very similar relatives, live in some of the countries of South America. These countries being Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru. So the spider and woolly monkeys areas overlay each other in some parts. (11) Another closely related species of monkey is the howler monkey. This type of monkey also lives in the tropics of south and Central America along with the spider monkey.(12)

human impact

Spider monkeys live in the very top of the canopy in the tropical forests. As we continue to cut down the trees in their habitats, we are taking away their homes and source of food. We are cutting down their homes and the trees that they gather fruit and leaves from. Also, they are a popular hunting item. With their 20 or more pounds of meat, they are an easy and successful kill.(13)