Cebus apellabrown capuchin

Geographic Range

Cebus apella is found east of the Andes from Colombia and Venezuela to Paraguay and northern Argentina. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984)


Cebus apella inhabits moist subtropical or tropical forests, but has also been seen in dry forest, gallery forest, disturbed and secondary forest. In northwest Argentina these monkeys live in montane forest at an elevation of 200 to 1100m. This species prefers the understory and midcanopy of the forest, but often descends from the trees to forage and play. Cebus apella has the widest range and broadest habitat tolerances of any other Cebus species. (Forbes, et al., 1984; Kinzey, 1989; Nowak, 1991; Rowe, 1996)

  • Range elevation
    1100 (high) m
    3608.92 (high) ft

Physical Description

Brown capuchin monkeys vary in color from light brown to mustard yellow to black. The shoulders and underbelly are lighter than the rest of the body. There is a patch of coarse black fur on the crown of the head, sometimes referred to as a cap. Above the ears the black hairs form tufts of fur giving the species one of its common names, tufted capuchin monkey. Facial patterns are variable among individuals, but black sideburns extending from the cap are characteristic of Cebus apella. The hands, feet, and tail are either black or dark brown.

The tail is long and prehensile. Cebus apella is the only species of capuchin monkey known to carry its tail in a tight coil.

This species is robust and stocky. Brown capuchin monkeys have a deep lower jaw and large jaw muscles to accomodate a diet of large fruits and rough vegetation. Males are 34% larger in body size and have canines 22% larger than those of females. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Kinzey, 1989; Rowe, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1300 to 4800 g
    45.81 to 169.16 oz


Cebus apella has a polygamous mating system. Females mate preferentially with the dominant male. Other males have mating opportunities when the dominant male is not present. During the last two days of a female's estrus cycle, the dominant male is very protective and keeps the female from mating with subordinate males. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Kinzey, 1989; Rowe, 1996)

Cebus apella does not appear to have a breeding season, though most births may occur during the dry season or early rainy season. The ovarian cycle lasts for approximately 21 days and female's show no external genital swellings during estrus. The gestation period is 150-160 days and one infant is born, twins are very rare.

Young males leave their natal group once they reach sexual maturity. Male brown capuchin monkeys are considered sexually mature at 7 years of age. Females mature earlier and may give birth to their first offspring as early as 4 years old. (Forbes, et al., 1984; Linn, 1995; Nowak, 1991; Rowe, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    Capuchins give birth once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Births and breeding may occur in any season, but may be more frequent during dry or early rainy seasons.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 (high)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    150 to 160 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1703 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 years

Parenting is left to the females, although males are tolerant of juveniles. Allomothering is a common practice. Infant capuchin monkeys cling to their mothers fur during their first few months of life. Mothers travel with their infants and nurse them during that time. If a young capuchin monkey is separated from its mother, other members of the troop will respond to the infant's distress calls. Female capuchins remain in their natal group at adulthood while males disperse. (Nowak, 1991)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Typical longevity in the wild is unknown, but captive C. apella may live to 45 years old. (Nowak, 1991)


Cebus apella is diurnal and arboreal. Most traveling is done quadrupedally by leaping and climbing.

Brown capuchin monkeys are social animals forming groups of 8 to 15 animals. Juvenile males leave the group at sexual maturity and seek out new groups in which to mate. The core members of a group are, therefore, the females who typically spend their entire lives in the same group.

The group is lead by a dominant male, who is most active in protecting the group from predators and other groups of monkeys. If another group comes into his home range, the dominant male leads the attack to drive the other group away. However, C. apella is less aggressive towards other troops than other Cebus species. Home ranges may overlap by 40% and different troops have been observed feeding near each other without antagonism. The dominant male has the first choice in mating and food sources. When food is scarce and a new source is found, the dominant male always eats first. Other members of the group tolerated by the dominant male are allowed to eat with him, but subordinate members must wait until the priority group is finished. This priority group often consists of juveniles, infants and a few favorite females. While dominant males are usually tolerant of their own offspring, juveniles from previous dominant males are treated with great hostility. Most aggression taking place within the group stems from competition for food.

Social grooming is common throughout the group.

Playing is common among juveniles in the wild and in captivity. Brown capuchins are the only neotropical primate that play with objects that are placed in their enclosures. Cebus apella individuals are intelligent and curious animals. (Emmons, 1990; Flannery, March 26, 2000; Kinzey, 1989; Nowak, 1991; Rowe, 1996)

Home Range

Home ranges are normally 25 ha to 40 ha, but can be up to 355 ha with a day range of 2000m.

Communication and Perception

These monkeys scent mark themselves by washing their hands in their own urine and rubbing their hands on their fur. This may be a way for males to advertise their sexual maturity.

Female brown capuchin monkeys in estrus try to attract the attention of the dominant male by following him and making loud calls. A wide variety of vocalizations is known from Cebus species. These were divided into 4 categories in C. olivaceus: contacting the group, contacting individuals, ending aggressive encounters, alerting the group to the presence of danger.

Gestures and facial expressions are also widely used in communication and social grooming is an important form of contact. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Nowak, 1991; Rowe, 1996)

Food Habits

Fruits are a large part of brown capuchin monkey's diet. This species can eat larger fruits than other species of capuchin monkey because of their robust jaws. Vegetation, seeds, pith, eggs, insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals (such as mouse opossums) are also included in their diet. During the dry season, when food is scarce, Scheelea palm frond pith is critical to this animal's survival. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Rowe, 1996)

Foraging is a noisy and destructive activity. Brown capuchin monkeys move from tree to tree, ripping apart vegetation and cracking open nuts against branches. They look for vertebrate and invertebrate prey by destroying dead vegetation and capturing anything inside. Individuals who catch prey do not usually share with other group members. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Rowe, 1996)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers


The dominant male protects his troop from predators by sounding alarm calls. This draws attention to himself so that his troop can escape. Capuchin monkeys are very wary of predators.

Members of a troop give sharp whistling calls at the sight of hawks and eagles, two of the most significant predators of this species. The troop is so wary of hawks and eagles that it sounds alarm whistles even if the bird flying overhead is harmless. (Emmons, 1990; Forbes, et al., 1984; Rowe, 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Brown capuchin monkeys are important predators on small animals and may disperse the seeds of some forest plants when they eat the fruit.

Cebus apella can be found in mixed species groups. They are most often found in association with squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sp.). Usually the squirrel monkeys initiate the mixed group interaction, probably in order to find food more efficiently. Squirrel monkeys follow brown capuchin monkeys to new food sources, which saves them foraging time. The association does not seem to benefit capuchin monkeys.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cebus apella has been extensively hunted for meat. These animals are also popular pets in many parts of the world. They have been trained to perform household tasks for people with disabilities and are most commonly known as the monkeys used by itinerant "organ grinders". (Emmons, 1990; Nowak, 1991; Rowe, 1996)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative affects of C. apella on humans.

Conservation Status

Because of its high reproductive potential and its habitat flexibility, hunting and habitat destruction have not devastated populations as severely as they have other species of primates. However, certain subspecies may be threatened, including C. a. xanthosternos and C. a. robustus from the Atlantic forests of eastern Brazil.

Cebus apella is the most commonly seen monkey in Amazonia. (Emmons, 1990; Nowak, 1991; Rylands, et al., 1997)


Rebecca Anderson (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Emmons, L. 1990. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Flannery, S. March 26, 2000. "Black-capped Capuchin, Primate Info Net" (On-line). Accessed May 2, 2001 at

Forbes, P., B. MacKeith, R. Perberdy. 1984. All The World's Animals: Primates. New York, Toronto: Torstar Books.

Kinzey, W. 1989. New World Primates: Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Linn, G. 1995. American Journal of Primatology.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rowe, N. 1996. The Pictorial Guide To The Living Primates. New York: Pogonias Press.

Rylands, A., R. Mittermeier, E. Rodriguez-Luna. 1997. Conservation of Neotropical Primates: Threatened Species and an Analysis of Primate Diversity by Country and Region. Folia Primatologica, 68: 134-160.