Watch a Black-Handed Spider Monkey Feed! Thanks to ARKive
ARKive video - Black-handed spider monkeys feeding in canopy

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Animal: Black-Handed Spider Monkey

Why This Animal?
I like this animal because I am interested in the way these animals move. They use their tails as a fifth limb. It helps them swing from tree to tree. I also find that the way these animals distribute themselves to eat. They stay in groups while the fruit where they are feeding is abundant. When the supplies run out, they split in to smaller groups and eat things like leaves and bark. It is very interesting how they are so small but make a big impact in the ecosystem.

Research Location:
Well it has been about four days since me and my group, affiliated with CIRAD (Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development), arrived in French Guiana, which is located near Brazil and Suriname. Looking around, all I see is beautiful rainforest. French Guiana is approximately 95% rainforest, but also has a few areas of marshes, swamps, wetlands, and savannas. We first entered the rainforest yesterday. My breath was taken away; it was gorgeous. There were tall trees, small shrubs, colorful birds, and many other things you would think you could only see in movies. What I have noticed since I got here is how humid it is. It's humid all day and humid all night, the temperatures barely changing as the skies do. Yesterday afternoon, it was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the 80% humidity, it felt thick enough to cut with a knife. The temperatures and humidity rarely change at all during the entire year. The plants on the ground are scarce, as the farmers have said the soil is very nutrient poor. But I guess that could be because the soil here is over 100 million years old and rain has washed all the minerals out. The trees here are really tall, and seem to have different layers, about five of them.

Kelli's Black-Handed Spider Monkey Food Web

Using the Research-Research in Action**

The limiting factors of the Black-Handed Spider Monkey:
  • Hunting--Poachers
  • Shelter--Habitat Destruction

Observation Journal
Day 1-Well this was my first day actually observing these amazing creatures. I can't believe I saw them in person! It was me and some other people from my group, and we were just walking along through the rainforest, just exploring. We saw something move to the left of us. So we all stopped and looked. And there, about 90 yards away, was a couple of Black Handed Spider Monkeys. They were eating fruit, so they must have been getting their lunch when we walked by and disturbed their peace. After they looked at us a while, one guy from the group took a couple steps forward and the monkeys fled. I hope we see these animals tomorrow. Maybe we can catch them in the same spot we did today and figure out their routine. Wish us good luck!

Day 2-If you thought yesterday was exciting, you'll freak when you hear what happened today! As we had hoped, when we walked that same path as yesterday, we stirred up some action within the trees. When we had walked a little ways past, one monkey came out of the brush and into the clear. It was so cool! Then other monkeys followed from bhind him. It looked as if he had a little community of monkeys with him. One of the smaller monkeys started slowly and cautiously walking towards our group. When he was about 10 yards away from us, one of us knelt down to the ground. The monkey obviously was startled, as he threw his half-eaten fruit at us and ran back to his crowd of peers. After this incident, nothing exciting happened the rest of the day. Well, maybe tomorrow this brave little monkey will come close enough to touch. Maybe he will gain our trust enough to even let us actually touch him, and eventually maybe even interact with him! Anyhow, we are making some progress!

Day 3-Well, well, well. Today we didn't see any of our monkey friends as we passed that area. It didn't even seem like they were in there, as there was no trace of movement and no noise, except for the occasional bird tweet. I hope tomorrow brings better luck, and lower temperatures! It was so hot today I thought I was crispy from baking in that sun so long. Thank God for sunscreen! Well, it's off to bed for me. Or tent. Whichever you want to call it.

Day 4-We decided not to travel our normal path today. Instead, we split up in pairs and headed out in all different directions. My partner and I went down a small slope and sat on some rocks next to a clump of trees and a little stream. We decided to have some lunch, so we pulled out our oranges and peanut butter sandwiches. Within the next 15 minutes, we heard some unusual noises. We looked up to see two small monkeys, about 10 feet away, just staring at us. I offered them a slice of orange, just holding it out flat on my palm. One of the monkeys inched forward. She got just close enough to snatch the slice of orange and run back to where her buddy sat. She ate the orange and then slowly came back for more. I didn't offer food, I just sat there with my hands in my lap. And so did she. She was waiting for me to offer her some food, instead of just stealing it. So I gave her part of my sandwich and she sat right next to me eating it. Then she went down to the little stream and washed her hands, her face, and took a little drink. I did the same. And then we split up and both went back to our camps. This was such a cool experience! I am so sad that tomorrow is my last day of observation. But I know now where I will be going right away in the morning!

Day 5-Today was the last day of animal observation. I was bummed this morning, but when I got to the little stream, I was pleased. My little monkey friend was waiting for me! I decided to call her Sasha, just because that has always been one of my favorite names and it seemed to suit her. She came right up to me and started to search my pockets for snacks. She stepped back, looking disappointed. I had not thought to bring food! So we played around in the water and she offered me some bugs she found in the dirt. I took some, not even thinking about putting them near my mouth, and let them go on the other side of me. She found them and ate them anyway. I had not realized how late it was getting until the setting sun shone in my eyes. I realized I would probably never see Sasha again, so I gave my little monkey a hug and headed back for camp before tears set in. I am so fascinated by what has happened in the past few days, and all the things I am so lucky to have experienced! I hope to come back to Suriname sometime soon, and maybe, just maybe, see my beloved Sasha again.

Wildlife Monitoring Technique

I think that the GPS collars are a good way to monitor Black Handed Spider Monkeys. I think this because monkeys are always moving around and there is no way to keep up with them by placing cameras through out the entire rainforest-that's nearly impossible, and you still may miss them. GPS collars will track them and see how they are thriving, or not, and which areas propose safe or dangerous situations regularly.

Fellow Researcher Profile

For my fellow researcher profile, I found that Jennifer Weghorst of Washington University in St. Louis, MO, researches and observes the Black Handed Spider Monkey. She studies the behavioral ecology of these fascinating animals. Jennifer went down to Costa Rica for a while, and set up camp in a productive, lowland wet forest. She watched and observed for social adaptations between the Black Handed Spider Monkeys and the other kinds of spider monkeys in that area. Jennifer watched for how the spider monkeys adapted and responded to fluctuations in their environment. She had a hypothesis she was wanting to test: "the relation of diet and foraging ecology to the social structure and organization of spider monkeys living in a diverse, wet forest with a decreased dry season". She wanted to, "gain a clearer view of this primate's variation in behavior and ecology by comparing the results of this study with those of published studies of spider monkeys from other sites", and, "provide the first investigation of the relationships between subgroup changes and social and ecological variables in a large group of spider monkeys". Jennifer was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, and the American Society of Primatologists to take this expedition to Costa Rica.

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