Swingers of the Forest - Mischievous Capuchin Monkeys

  • Monday, 13 May 2019
  • Linda Chivell

Chapuchin 1

Monkey Sanctuary’s rich forest community includes a variety of capuchin species.

Even though you may not recognize the word capuchin, you’ve probably seen these spunky little fellas, the most intelligent of all monkeys because they’ve starred in innumerable TV shows, movies, and commercials.

But there’s more to them than on-screen fame. They poke each other in the eye as a bonding gesture. They throw rocks at their monkey crushes. Read on to find out more about these remarkable critters.


A Franciscan monk named Matteo da Bascio broke with his order's tradition in the year 1525. He wanted to live a more austere, hermit-like life like St. Francis of old and subsequently helped found a group called the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, whose members were called Capuchin monks. Their signature was the wearing of a brown pointed hood called a capuccino.

European explorers who visited the forests of the new world knew these friars with the brown hoods and when these explorers encountered capuchins in the wild, they couldn’t help but think that those monkeys with hood-like tufts of brown hair looked an awful lot like the Capuchin friars. Thence the name Capuchins after those brown-hooded monks. The beverage known as cappuccino was probably also named after these coffee-coloured robes

  1. THEY’RE FAMOUS TV STARSJack Pirates of Caribbean 2 Copy

With their cute faces and charming antics, capuchin monkeys have appeared in all sorts of performances. Victorian organ grinders had capuchins that danced and collected coins. More recently, they’ve appeared in movies, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean

  1. THEY’RE HIGHLY SOCIAL.Chapuchin 6 baby

Capuchins live in groups. They navigate their social worlds with a complex set of facial expressions and gestures. High-ranking males are usually the fathers of all the group’s babies. But they carefully avoid inbreeding; once the dominant male’s daughters grow up, they’ll only mate with lower-ranking males. Capuchins also seem to have a sense of fairness and they avoid individuals who they perceive to be selfish.


One of their unusual techniques is, well, shoving their finger in someone else’s eye. Other traditions include sniffing each other’s hands and sucking on tails, fingers, and ears. Capuchins even bite a tuft of hair from another’s face and pass it around with their mouths. This might all be about reinforcing social bonds

  1. THEY USE TOOLS.Chapuchin 2

Capuchins are skilled tool users and these clever Capuchins have learned to use tools for easy opening their food’s packaging which takes brawn as well as brains but eventually they crack the package for a nutritious treat.

They smash nuts with rocks, insert branches into crevices to capture food, remove spines and hairs from caterpillars by rubbing them against a branch, protect their hands with leaves, and use large branches to club snakes.

Capuchins were the first non-ape primates that we observed using tools in the wild. They will fish termites out of their mounds with a special technique that includes stick rotation and tapping the nests.

  1. THEY WASH WITH PEE.Chapuchin 3

Capuchins and some other New World monkey species do something called “urine washing.” They pee on their hands and use it to wash their feet. Unsure exactly why it may be a social cue. Capuchins may urine wash to calm down aggressive friends. Males may do it to appease females or convey their sexual excitement. It may also be about improving a monkey’s grip on slippery trees by making its hands and feet … grippier.


Females in a group of bearded capuchins have been observed throwing rocks at males in an apparent attempt to initiate sex. Reasonable thought is that one female might have started the trend, and then other females copied her.

  1. THEY EAT FLOWERS, FROGS, AND MUCH MORE.Chapuchin 5 eating

Capuchin diets are pretty varied. They consume both plants and meat. If the season’s right, they’ll dine on plant parts such as fruit, seeds, leaves, and flowers. Their animal prey includes birds, oysters, lizards, frogs, frogspawn caviar and more.


Capuchin monkeys use different vocal sounds to identify different types of predators. They have also been seen banging stones together to warn each other of approaching predators.


For a capuchin, life isn’t all fun, games, and eye-poking. Several predators lurk in the forest. Small nocturnal wild cats and snakes are a threat and may prey on them—though they risk being thwacked by a club-wielding capuchin. But the most impressive predator might be a harpy eagle who will patiently wait hours—sometimes, nearly a day—for the perfect moment to strike.

A Safe Space for Families

Like all primates, Capuchins are profoundly social animals and, in their natural habitat, would live in multigenerational troops of dozens of individuals. They have long periods of maternal dependence, during which time young monkeys would learn how to socialize, look after themselves and play a role in their community. Those monkeys like Capuchins who have been denied this experience find it very difficult to learn these skills in later life which is why the proposed enclosure system is so necessary.

Let’s protect our capuchin cousins so that they’ll keep cracking open nuts, poking each other in the eye, and throwing rocks at boys for generations to come.



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