We analysed the selection of tree species consumed by an isolated troop of Mexican howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata mexicana) released in a translocation programme on Agaltepec Island, in Catemaco Lake, Veracruz, Mexico. During November 1989–December 1996, howlers used 36 of the 63 tree species present on the island as food. Selection ratios indicated that six Ficus species (particularly F. pertusa) were among the seven most important food species. Data on time spent feeding showed that the six Ficus species were among the eight most important food species for the monkeys. Howlers spent 64.2% of their feeding time on Ficus products with F. pertusa being consumed significantly more often than foods from other Ficus species. However, monkeys fed on only one third of the 81 adult Ficus trees on the island. No significant differences were found in various food constituents (water, ash, fibre, protein, carbohydrates, lipids) of the six Ficus and two other abundant species in the habitat, whether across species, plant parts (young leaves, mature leaves, fruits), or between seasons (wet, dry). Monkeys consumed Ficus fruits rather the leaves. Fruits showed a much higher energy content per g dry weight than leaves. We also estimated the average daily biomass of leaves and fruits of Ficus spp. consumed by howlers and their energetic contribution to the daily diet of these monkeys. We suggest that some of these tendencies to frugivory reflect the abundance of Ficus trees within the home ranges of the howlers; when few fig trees are present, folivory is the dominant tendency, whereas when many fig trees are present, frugivory is dominant.