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  • Cited by 33
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: May 2010

4 - Diets of wild spider monkeys

    • By Anthony Di Fiore, Center for the Study of Human Origins, Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA, Andres Link, Center for the Study of Human Origins, Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA, J. Lawrence Dew, Department of Biological Sciences, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA 70148, USA
  • Edited by Christina J. Campbell, California State University, Northridge
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • DOI:
  • pp 81-137



The first comprehensive field study of wild spider monkeys was undertaken in Panama in the early 1930s by C. R. Carpenter. In discussing the diet of Ateles geoffroyi, Carpenter (1935) wrote, “Red spider monkeys have been classed correctly as frugivorous. It is estimated that about 90 percent of their food consists of fruit or nuts” (p. 174). Since that time, field studies of wild Ateles have consistently confirmed Carpenter's early assessment of the highly frugivorous diet of spider monkeys, to the point where they are now treated as a classic example of a frugivorous primate and are often considered to be “ripe fruit specialists” (Cant, 1977; Klein and Klein, 1977; van Roosmalen, 1985; van Roosmalen and Klein, 1988; Cant, 1990; Dew, 2005; Wallace, 2005; Di Fiore and Campbell, 2007). In this chapter, we first review what is known of the diet of wild Ateles, paying particular attention to data from long-term ecological studies. In doing so, we address the physiological and morphological adaptations for frugivory that spider monkeys have evolved, as well as the connections among diet, food resource distribution and foraging behavior that are relevant to understanding the characteristic “fission–fusion” social organization of Ateles.

From there, we move on to discussing the interesting variation seen in the diets of spider monkeys across tropical forest sites, and we address in more detail the diets of two populations of white-bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth belzebuth) which we and our colleagues and collaborators have studied over multiple years in Colombia and Ecuador.

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