Last Updated: Feb 27, 2012
The capuchin monkey is commonly seen throughout Costa Rica. Also called white-faced monkeys, these small primates are widely recognized as the most intelligent New World monkey.
They are native to Central and South America and are frequently spotted in many of Costa Rica's national parks. Capuchins have small, slender bodies covered in brown or black fur. Their faces, necks and chests are typically a white or cream color, earning them the name mono cara blanca in Spanish, or white-faced monkey.
Capuchins are highly social animals and live in troops of 10 to 30 individuals. The average group has roughly 15 members led by a dominant male. They are arboreal creatures and seldom descend to the forest floor. The monkeys use chatters, shrieks and other sounds to communicate with one another. Capuchins are omnivores and eat everything from insects and invertebrates to flowers and fruit. They prefer their fruit ripened and will often smell, squeeze or bite it before consumption.
These primates have also been known to eat bird eggs, crabs and small lizards. They play an invaluable role in seed dispersal as they often discard fruit pits on the forest floor. Although they get moisture from fruit and animals, capuchins have been observed drinking water from tree holes and other sources.
White-faced monkeys inhabit diverse areas and can thrive in high-altitude cloud forests as well as wet lowlands along the coast. They are also prevalent in both wet and tropical dry forests. Visitors can observe troops of capuchins in Santa Rosa National Park and the Cabo Blanco Reserve during the dry season. They are also regularly seen in Manuel Antonio National Park, the cloud forests of Monteverde and along the Osa Peninsula.
Capuchins spend most of their time in the treetops, peeling off bark in search of insects and other potential prey. They are very inquisitive animals and have been conditioned to being fed by humans in some of the more visited areas, such as Manuel Antonio National Park. This can lead to aggressive behavior as the monkeys become too dependant on humans for food.
Females mate with several males in the troop and give birth to one offspring every two years. Baby capuchins cling to their mothers’ backs for the first three months while they are still nursing. Infants are weaned by one year of age and reach sexual maturity when they are five to seven years old.
Status in the Wild:
In the wild, white-faced monkeys are preyed upon by boa constrictors, large raptors and jaguars. Their population in Costa Rica is currently considered healthy and stable. The biggest threat to the capuchin species is habitat destruction. With increased development, humans are slowly encroaching on their territory. However, many troops continue to prosper in the country’s numerous national parks.