Monkey Forest Tales: A day with a mixed troop of Colombian squirrel monkey and black-capped capuchins

Today post is the first in a series of two post about interactions between primate species observed in the study area. This time we are going to join a common association between a group of Colombian squirrel monkeys (Saimiri cassiquiarensis albigena) and a group of black-capped capuchins (Sapajus apella). These species commonly make mixed troops, where groups of these two species eat and move together for several hours or days. The groups in our story live in a fragmented area with small fragments and live fences connecting them.

Our group of squirrel monkeys has 32 individuals: 4 males, 8 females, 3 sub adults, 10 juveniles of different age and 8 infants. And our group of black-capped capuchins has 6 individuals: one male, 2 females, 2 juveniles and one baby. They wake up early, when the sun was rising, around 5:30 am we start hearing squirrel monkey sound first, and from time to time you can hear a capuchin monkey sound too. They meet the day before close to the border of a forest fragment. They eat together in a big fig tree on a live fence and continue together to a small fragment, which they usually use to sleep. This fragment is connected to a bigger fragment by live fences full of fruit trees.

The new day start with some movements from the juveniles and females, from both species, they just start moving looking for some insects to catch, looking under dead and live leaves, removing some small branches, just searching. Babies were in their mothers back, a couple of them taking some milk from their mom, while they trying to catch some insects. All individuals from both species start eating fruits of several trees around the palms where they spend the night, others search for insects. Most of the capuchins on the top part of the trees, while the squirrel monkeys were eating in the lower branches and smaller trees. All babies are on the backs of their mothers now. It’s the beginning of April and the forest and live fences are full of fruits and there is more insects around because of the rain.

After a few minutes, capuchins start moving outside of the forest fragment and along the live fences, followed by squirrel monkeys. They were all more or less in a line, looking for fruits and insect while they were moving slowly. Two hours had passed when they reach the biggest fragment, individuals of both species disperse along the fragment edge, eating on small purple fruits from Miconia’s trees. After a while, capuchin and squirrel monkey juveniles start chasing between them, running and jumping from branch to branch. From time to time even a subadult male of squirrel monkey join the game. The game is simple, one start chasing the others, when one individual is catch, his tail is pulled and that individual start chasing the rest of the juveniles. There is a lot of screams from the juveniles playing around.

It’s almost midday and the air is hot; a soft wind came in from the forest edge. A capuchin male is resting in a wide branch groomed by a female with her baby in her chest, suckling some milk. Squirrel monkey females are grouped in a nearby tree on different branches, resting in pairs, while their babies move around them in an awkward way.

Around 2 pm, the squirrel monkey females start moving around searching for insects, some of the juveniles are still playing. Then the capuchin male start moving a bit faster, all his group follow him, while the squirrel monkeys seems to be trying to decide if they follow them or not. After a couple of minutes of doubt, squirrel monkeys start moving faster in the same direction that capuchins did. Suddenly, they stop, they found a group of big trees of Nispero and start eating dispersed between trees. There are some Mamito and Brosium trees too, individuals of both speies disperse between all trees, eating, all mixed. Some individuals are searching for insects, too. From time o time you can see a capuchin monkey or a squirrel monkey just looking at the sky and on the ground. They seems to be looking for any sign of danger. A big bird shadow is on the sky. A juvenile of squirrel monkey had saw it first and make a sound that alerts everyone. It’s false alarm, it was just a vulture playing with the wind currents, gliding.

Half an hour later, everyone start moving fast again. Jumping from one branch to the other. Occasionally one individual catch a spider. After a while they found a clump of Anime trees, it’s open red skin shows the sweet white pulp. Fruits are ready to be eaten. Females start eating them, while juveniles start playing again. A scream is hear and a couple of squirrel monkey females run towards the ground, they were chased by a capuchin female, who wanted to eat on their spot. A couple of subadult are searching for insects near to the ground. The group disperse to eat again. There are animals moving all around.

It’s around 5 pm and the movement starts again, slowly. They move, and eat some fruits and insects, not stopping, they have a direction again. Suddenly, they reach a part of the forest where a group of Unama palms are clumped, a place both species love to use as a dormitory. They probably will spend the night here. The first ones to enter are the females, they sit together, babies in the middle. Juveniles of both species are still playing together, chasing each other and screaming. Some squirrel monkey males and a capuchin male are still eating insects near to the top of a big tree. The sun is hiding and almost all movements stops. All capuchin monkeys in a couple of palms and squirrel monkeys in the remaining ones. They are ready to spend the night on those palms. It’s almost 6:30 pm and the sun is gone.

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