Monkey Forest Tales: How monkeys move?

On some past post I have talk about where monkeys move, but we have not talked about how they move and by this we mean if they are quadrupedal (i.e. move like dogs and cats) or bipedal (i.e. move like us), or they move leaping (i.e. jumping from tree to tree) or by using the suspensory behavior (i.e. climbing a tree).
Well, primates in general use all these forms of locomotion (movement) and some species use one or more of these locomotion forms during their lives depending on their activities. For example, quadrupedal locomotion is used by monkeys in two forms: arboreal quadrupedal movement, when they walk on their four limbs on big trees branches and terrestrial quadrupedal locomotion when they walk on their four limbs on the ground in search of food. Some used both forms of quadrupedal movements because they use both trees and the ground during their search for food and other activities.
In the study area, black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys use all forms of locomotion depending on the activities they are doing (see video, below). For example, when foraging for insects and spiders on the ground they use terrestrial quadrupedal movements, but they also can move bipedal for a couple of minutes if they are carrying some heavy fruits with their hands or to have a better look on the ground in search of insects. They both also use leaping to move between trees and even some times they use the suspensory behavior to climb to the top of big trees or to be able to cross gaps between tree tops that there are not so far apart.
Red howler monkeys are masters on the use of suspensory behavior to reach flowers on the thinner branches of some trees or to reach fruits from trees that may not support their weight to they use their body weight on stronger branches to reach those fruits. They also move using arboreal quadrupedalism on big trees with wide branches and sometime leap between branches during their long-distance movements.
Dusky titi monkeys and Brumback night monkeys use more arboreal quadrupedalism and leaping on their movements in search of fruits and when moving fast on the forest canopy. Dusky titi monkeys sometimes also use terrestrial quadrupedal movement when searching for insects on the ground. We didn’t see Brumback night monkeys on the ground yet, but they use leaping and fast arboreal quadrupedalism to avoid us as much as they can.
How monkeys move is an important part of how we describe what monkeys do during their activities and it explain some modifications in primates’ bodies as well as particular behaviors.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Thinking about fires and some recent news

During past weeks there were some devastating news about fires in northern Argentina that reached a field station, Estación Biológica Corrientes in San Cayetano Provincial Park, Corrientes, Argentina (more information here). At this field station a population of black and gold howler monkeys that has been studied over 30 years was partially decimated by fires.

The reason why I bring this story to this blog is because those fires were started as part of a periodic practice that it is also done in the study area, during the dry season (December to March). When I hear the news, not only I felt a deep sadness for the people and the monkeys but it also reminds me of the next dry season approaching to my study area and the fragility of some of the forest fragments in which we work.

Fires has been used in the study area to regrowth pastures and it has been a long time traditional practice in the natural savannas in the Orinoquian region, however sometimes those fires get out of control and enter to the forest burning complete forest fragments and all that live inside them. Local people practice of burning garbage close to forest edge also increase the risk of wildfires destroying forest fragments in the area during the dry season.

Some of the traditional practices in the region that have been used for long time and seems to have worked, except on very dry months, it’s a deep ditch in the border of forest edges or areas were they want the fires to stop. Mostly this has been effective, the problem is when there is wind and it is very dry, the fire jump and sometimes catches dry fallen leaves that starts a fire inside of the forest.

These practices combined with the continues reduction of forest fragments that make the seasonal streams get dryer every year are becoming a real threat to the forest and all the animals who live in there, in the whole region. More regeneration and planting native trees can improve both, controlling the fires and keeping the water flow in those seasonal streams. As well as prepare and improve fire practices that need to be restricted in very dry months.

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Monkey Forest Tales: How monkeys communicate?

During my last visit to the field, I had the opportunity of taking some city kids to the forest to learn about monkeys (kids from the landowners). During this visit we talk about the monkeys, their forest and how they live. During our talks, I asked some of the kids what other questions they have about the monkeys, what they would like to know about them. One of the questions that one of the kids asked is how monkeys communicate. So, in today’s post we are going to explore the different ways monkeys have to communicate between them.

As many other animals, monkeys use their senses to communicate, sometimes combining smell, sound, contact and visual clues. Some species use one or several at the same time. For example, the nocturnal monkeys use more scents and sound to communicate more than visual clues because they move in a dark environment at night.

Colombian squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys, dusky titi monkeys and black-capped capuchins use a combination of sounds, visual displays, and scents to communicate between them and between groups.

Red howler and dusky titi monkeys emit loud sounds in the early mornings to tell other groups where they are. Those same sounds are also produced to tell solitary males or other groups that they are too close, and they need to move to another area because they are in their territory.

Black-capped capuchins emit different sounds to tell the other member of their groups that they see a possible danger. They even have different sounds for bird predators (e.g., eagles) or terrestrial predators (e.g. snakes, jaguar and other wild cats) and these sounds are also recognized by individuals of Colombian squirrel monkeys, because they sometimes form mixed groups of the two species.

Males of red howler, dusky titi, Colombian squirrel monkeys sometimes rub their neck on some branches to mark them. Scent are used also to detect when the females are ready to copulate.

All monkeys in the study area use grooming not only to clean their fur from ticks and other parasites. But also, to reinforce the relationships between members in the group. Dusky titi monkeys additionally twine their tails to reinforce their bond as a family, couple during resting. 

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Monkey Forest Tales: Notes from the field

I’m writing today’s post from the field. After almost 8 months without being in the field is just an incredible feeling to be here and being able to breath this air. Although I don’t live so far and still get some glimpses of rural life despite being in a city. The joy I felt the moment I get back to the farm where this project started is something I can hardly describe.
And it is even more incredible the feeling of looking at monkey’s groups that I learn to know for the last 16 years. Going back to the field after all these months of inactivity was challenging physical and in some ways emotionally.
We get some good and not so good news this time. Let’s start with the goods…. New babies were observed in red howler monkey’s groups, in two groups, and three groups of black-capped capuchins, all born during the pandemics. A big group of coatis was also observed with babies also born during the pandemics. Chela, my favorite Colombian squirrel monkey female is still around with a juvenile going behind her, probably a baby from a few years back. Babies born in February from Colombian squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys are growing well and healthy. And lastly but not least people are doing good and healthy in the farms despite the pandemics.
Now let’s talk about the not so good news…one of the red howler groups had a high infestation of botflies, especially the older juveniles, but also the adults. Although it is possible to see this kind of parasites in red howlers, in all the years I had been looking at red howler monkeys in fragmented and continuous forest, I had not seen so many group members with botflies.
The highest infestations of botflies that I had seen were in forest fragments in near proximity to cattle ranching and palm oil plantations. Although both situations are present in the forest fragment in which the group is found, the cows doesn’t have botflies at the moment and the palm oil plantation is not that close to the fragment. It is separated by two big pasture plots. Another possible explanation can be related to a decrease in their immune system response due to poor habitat quality.
Despite being October the second month with highest fruit productivity in that forest fragment, this year the forest fruit production seems to be delayed, fruits are just starting to be available. Another possible factor that can be playing a role is the fact that, it is a big group (ten individuals), which can increase competence and affect more older juveniles than the youngers and other members of the group in terms of access to food resources. However a more detailed observations are needed to understand this particular pattern. Hopefully the group will survive without any loss…at least I had never seen a red howler monkey die from botflies and let’s hope this won’t be the case…
For now we are able to start again our monitoring of monkeys in the study area and we keep a close eye on the red howler monkey’s group with botfly infestation. Hopefully next month we will be able to go again to make surveys and some of our students will be back in the field looking at these incredible resilient animals that always put a smile in my face…
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Monkeys Forest Tales: Talking about some scientific terms: Hotspots

In today’s post, we are going to talk about another scientific term that people outside science and the media use often. This term is hotspots. It is referred to an area where there is a concentration of something, animals, plants, diseases, culture, etc. As this is a blog related with the natural world, we are going to talk only about biodiversity hotspots.
In the world, there are several biodiversity hotspots such Indonesia in Asia, the Congo basin in Africa, the Atlantic forest in Brazil among others. Areas or countries considered hotspots are also areas with high concentration of endemism (see more about endemism here)
In Colombia, we had several hotspots in terms of areas with high diversity of species such Choco and the Amazonian piedmont in Putumayo, where there is a high diversity of plants and animals. These areas are of high importance for the country and highly threatened by human activities.
In Meta, the department where this project is focus, the area around Serrania de la Macarena is a hotspot of plants and animals, because in this area the fauna and flora of three regions meet. This area had plants and animals from the Andean, Orinoquian and Amazonian regions, making it an important place for the biodiversity of Colombia.
The diversity of altitudes, topography and weather of Colombia also influence the high concentration of biodiversity present in the country and that is the reason of why Colombia is also considered a hotspot in terms of biodiversity.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Talking about some scientific terms: Endemism

In past days while talking with people outside of the scientific circle, I found myself explaining some terms that are used in media and even in some policy documents not always consulted with a person with a scientific background. So, in today’s post and next post you will find some explanations and examples of the terms: endemism and hotspots that you probably had hear.
Let’s start with endemism that is a biological term used to describe a living things (bacteria, fungi, virus, plants, and animals) which are only found in a restricted area, usually limited by certain conditions which can include limits of temperature, altitude and relative humidity. But what that mean? It means that those specific organisms are not found in any other place. This can be a mountain, a specific type of forest in a remote area, an specific ecosystem or country or even a continent.
An example from the study area is the dusky titi monkey, they only live in a small area of Colombia. You can only find them in an area of around 60.000 km2, an area bigger than Switzerland.
One of the reasons this terms is important and most of the species that are endemics are in risk of extinction is that its reduced distribution area make them more sensible to disappear once the habitat in which they are found is destroyed.
Colombia is a country with a high number of endemic species, 14 % of the known species in Colombia are endemic. Most of them threatened by deforestation due to human activities such as road construction, agriculture, cattle ranching, petrol exploitation, and mining.
Not all endemic species in Colombia are found in protected areas and some are currently found in fragmented landscapes. In the case of the dusky titi monkeys, they are only found in two National Parks, Tinigua and La Macarena, both with high deforestation.
Outside of the National Parks dusky titi monkeys are found in forest fragments surrounded by pastures, palm oil plantations, crops, and urbanizations. Therefore, in order to conserve this species, we need to learn how to manage the landscapes in which they survive outside of National Parks and conserve the populations inside the National Parks.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Some notes about our new monitoring of Colombian squirrel monkeys in Villavicencio city

Over the last four months in which we were unable to follow monkeys because of the national lockdown caused by COVID-19, we have been monitoring a couple of Colombian squirrel monkeys in the forest remnants of Villavicencio city.
This monitoring is different from the one we made in San Martin area as we only have some sighting points to monitor the monkeys use of the forest instead of a systematic survey of complete forest fragments such as the ones in San Martin area.
However, our observations had allowed us to observe not only multi-male and multi-female groups but also bachelor groups (groups formed by only adult and subadult males) using the same forest area. Some babies from this year had been observed in three groups in different points of the city. Also, we had observed the monkeys eating some fruits that we didn’t observe them eating in San Martín.
It is still unclear how big is the territories of the groups we had identified. At least in one area we know they use electric lines to crossroads instead of going to the ground. However, the electrocution risk is high, and some fatalities has been reported by local people in those areas.
Some of the challenges to monitoring these groups is the insecurity to access the forest as well as the risk to be rob at the observation points at certain hours. Now that we have more freedom to move inside the city and the country a more intense monitoring of these groups of Colombian squirrel monkeys will start.
We had identified at least two points in which the groups are feed with banana, papaya and watermelon and a student will start monitoring one of these groups. A new campaign to reduce monkeys feeding points and behavior will also be started in the next month in those feeding points. Stay tuned for more advances on these new activities.


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Monkey Forest Tales: Some observations about birds in the study area

San Camilo- San Diego - San Marcos 068

I have been thinking for a while to write about some of my not specialized observations of birds in the area. In today’s post, I will share some of the patterns observed over the years for this most colorful animals. I have to admit that I’m an amateur in terms of birds, I know the basic from my studies in biology, but it wasn’t until I live in a place where most mammals where nocturnal that I developed an interest and enjoy observing birds during my daily walks, despite the good efforts of some of my ornithologist friends in previous years.

Probably the biggest pattern that I have observed in recent years in the study area is the return of individuals of Spix’s guan to some of the forests where they inhabit in the past but were gone for several decades, although still present in the region. A sighting I never will be tired to see is the return to the gallery forest of the scarlet ibis, mostly seen near to the small pond of water that survives the dry season in the forest fragments of the study area.

The whole region is rich in water, natural and artificial lakes, morichales (palm swamps composed mainly of Mauritia flexuosa palms), and small streams and rivers. During the rainy season is common to see the white-faced whistling duck in natural and artificial lakes.

SM Junio-Julio 2013 152

Walking in the forest always brings surprises such as blue-crowned motmot singing alone near to the ground. The usual lek of the white-bearded manakin, close to the forest edges in the lower parts of the forest, where a group of male’s dances in a coordinated way to attract the females. Deep in the biggest forest of the study area, we also can see Wire-tailed manakin leks in the lower branches Or the surprising and cryptic sunbittern in the lower branches of big trees over the stream.

Some years ago, it was also possible to see a couple of Jabirus in the big natural lake of the area, but we haven’t heard any reports in recent years in the area. The pastures and living fences are full of other species more tolerant to open spaces like Caracara cheriway, yellow-headed caracara, or the incredible fork-tailed flycatcher with his long tail balancing on a wire fence.

Birds in the study area are threatened by the same processes as monkeys, deforestation, and fragmentation. Protecting one group is also protecting the other, so let’s protect the forest so we can continue enjoying birds and monkeys for many years to come.

Unamas - SR Enero 2012 465

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Monkey Forest Tales: Life from the perspective of a Brumback night monkey baby, first 6 months

Aotus brumbacki (Colombian Llanos)Family
Brumback’s owl monkey (mono nocturno; Aotus brumbacki)

In today’s post, I am going to explore how is the life of a small baby monkey of a Brumback night monkey…

I’m what humans called a Brumback night monkey, a small monkey with big eyes, and almost no nose living in a forest of Colombia. My life started a calm and warm night at the end of the dry season. My mom was in our nest, hiding in a tall tree with lots of vines around us, it was a bit dark when I get out. My mom takes me from the middle of her legs and cleans me with her tongue. Once I was clean she put me in father’s back close to his neck, where I can hang very tight to his fur and put my tail around his arm. I’m very small and my father’s fur hides me because my tiny body is always very close to my dad’s neck.

In the first weeks of my life, I spend them on my father’s neck and only got o my mom when she feeds me. My dad takes care of me, cleans my fur, keeps me warm, and takes me with him, everywhere. My mom came close and sleep close to us every night. Some nights we sleep in the tall tree nest where I was born, but other times we sleep in a dead hollow palm or a huge fig tree with a couple of deep holes that keep us warm during the day. We mostly move at night, I discover that is why we have those big eyes, that way see at night and find our ways around the forest eating insects and fruits. My mom also cleans my fur and give me my milk every time I ask her. My days and nights pass as I drink milk from my mom’s armpit and sleep in my dad’s back most of the time. There are no other babies in the group, but I have a sister that sometimes cleans my fur and plays with me when our parent is resting…

Two months had passed since I was born and now I move around in my dad’s back when he is not moving, sometimes I even explore a bit farther when he is resting, walking, and jumping in the nearby branches. I usually play with my sister. We jump, run, and bite each other.

I had four months now, I still move on my dad’s back, but sometimes he starts moving ahead and I have to cry so he remembers that I’m still here and need to be carried by him. Sometimes I can also climb in my sister back. I started to try some of the fruits my dad is eating, I like to bite everything but it doesn’t always taste nice. Most of the time I spend exploring and playing with my sister. My mom still gives me milk from time to time. My legs are skinny and not always strong enough to carry me. I’m clumsy…

Now I have six months, I move alone except in some places where the branches are so apart from that I’m scared to jump. My dad helps me in those places, he let me climb on her back and I cross with him, but then he always wants me to go alone again and we fight, he bites me. Some nights my parents and sister let me in some dense branches where I can stay hiding while they move to eat in a nearby tree. I don’t like it much and start calling for them when this happens. I eat on my own now, but some times I also drink milk from my mom. I eat almost everything I can catch and sometimes steal some insects and fruits from my dad’s hand. Most of the time I’m playing, jumping, and running with my sister. I’m a healthy six-month baby of Brumback’s night monkey.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating International Primate Day!

This week on September 1rst, we celebrate International Primate Day! It’s a day to bring attention to this wonderful and diverse group of mammals whose members are the closest related to us, as we are also primates.

It is also a day to draw attention to the problems that are affecting most primate populations around the world. The main threats to this diverse group are mainly caused by human activities with deforestation and fragmentation caused by cattle ranching, agriculture at different scales (from small crops to large plantations), infrastructure projects, and mining. The additional threat that is exacerbated by deforestation and fragmentation of primate habitat is hunting and illegal pet trade.

Primates include all mammals that we commonly called lemurs, loris, monkeys, apes, and humans. It is a diverse group with a wide range of locomotion skills, diet, social organizations, reproductive strategies, habitat requirements, adaptations, and morphological features, including very colorful animals as well as a wide range of sizes. The smallest primate is a prosimian, Berthe’s mouse lemur, who lives in Madagascar and weighs no more than 30.6 grams. And the biggest primate is the Gorilla, living in Africa, with a weight of 140 – 250 kg, for males that are bigger than females.

In the study area, as we mentioned multiple times, we have five species of primates. The largest monkey in the study area is the red howler monkeys and the smallest is the Colombian squirrel monkey. They showed a wide diversity of habits with four diurnal species (red howlers, black-capped capuchins, dusky titi, and the Colombian squirrel monkeys) and one nocturnal species (Brumback’s night monkey). They also have a variety of diet from the most folivorous species like red howler monkeys and a more insectivorous-frugivorous species like the Colombian squirrel monkeys and a more omnivorous species like black-capped capuchins.

There is also a wide diversity of social structures exhibited by the monkeys in the study areas with monogamous species like dusky titi and Brumack’s night monkeys as well as multimale and multifemale groups like red howler, Colombian squirrel monkeys, and black-capped capuchins.

At the study area, deforestation and fragmentation had been shaping the ecology and movements of the monkey’s species inside and between forest fragment, as well as the use of wire and living fences, isolated trees, palm oil plantations, and pastures depending on their skills and tolerance to human activities around them.

Let’s celebrate International Primate Day by raising awareness of the diversity of this great group of animals and protecting the forest in which they inhabit. We also can do something by minding the things we buy and from where they proceed

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