Aotidaenight monkeys


There are eight species of night monkeys, also commonly called douroucoulis or owl monkeys, found from Panama to Peru, Bolivia, and northeastern Argentina. Douroucoulis are the only nocturnal monkeys in the New World. They are small monkeys found exclusively in forests. They are characterized by large eyes, flat, rounded faces, and dense, woolly pelage. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

Geographic Range

Night monkeys are found in southern Central America through South America as far south as Bolivia, northeastern Argentina, and Paraguay. The genus Aotus is the second most widely distributed New World monkey genus, with howler monkeys (Alouatta) being more widely distributed. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)


Night monkeys occur in a wide variety of forested habitats, from tropical lowland forests to cloud forests and in gallery forests, deciduous and semi-deciduous forests, dry forests, and mangrove swamps. They are found in primary, secondary, and remnant forests. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Physical Description

Night monkeys are small monkeys, from 455 to 1254 grams in weight and from 240 to 370 mm in head and body length. The tail is not prehensile and is from 316 to 400 mm. Males and females are similar in size and appearance. Pelage color and pattern is somewhat similar across species, with short, dense, woolly fur that is silvery gray dorsally and yellow or buff to orange-brown ventrally. The face is round and usually marked with 3 dark brown or black lines; one line on either side of the eyes and one marking the middle of the forehead. They have white or light gray areas of fur above and below their exceptionally large eyes and on the chin. In some species these markings are indistinct. Gray-necked species have grayish fur on the sides of their necks, red-necked species have red fur on the sides of their necks. The ears are short and rounded, sometimes completely covered by the thick fur. Night monkeys have a sac under their chin that can be inflated during vocalizations. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Nowak, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


Field studies have all reported that night monkey pairs are monogamous, with family groups being formed around these monogamous pairs. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Most information on mating in night monkeys is from captive populations, although some information from wild species is available. Gestation lengths have been reported from 122 to 153 days and a single young is born. Birth weight is about 80 grams. Sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years old. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Observations on wild and captive populations indicate that both males and females care for their young. Night monkeys occur in small family groups made up of a mated pair and their offspring. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Nowak, 1991)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female


In the wild the oldest known night monkey individual was 13 years old. In captivity they have been known to live to 20 years old. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Nowak, 1991)


Night monkeys are primarily active at night, although daytime activity has also been reported. Aotids are the only nocturnal monkeys in the New World. Night monkeys use day nest sites in tree hollows, cavities in woody vines, and in accumulations of leaves and sticks. They typically become active shortly after sunset and return to day nests shortly before sunrise. They travel and feed throughout the night, with a rest period around midnight. They typically travel rather slowly and have been described as sluggish. Home ranges tend to be small, from 252 to 829 meters travelled in a night. Home range sizes tend to be smaller during the dry season and larger in the wet season. Activity levels are higher during night when there is more moonlight. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Night monkeys are social, living in small family groups. Captive individuals kept alone become very distressed until they are placed with another individual. They are exclusively arboreal and are capable of remarkable leaps and agility in navigating the forest canopy. Leaps of up to 4 meters have been reported. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Communication and Perception

Night monkeys have very large eyes and use their sense of vision extensively. They have excellent vision in low light and can see in color. They communicate with vocalizations and with chemical cues. A captive night monkey was reported to use as many as 50 different kinds of vocalizations. Calls in the night are described as squeaks, hisses, and barks and the throat sac can be inflated to add resonance to calls. The alarm call is described as a "wook." They use glands on the throat and at the base of the tail to mark their surroundings and practice "urine washing," in which they coat their hands and feet with urine. The scent is then transferred to objects as they move about. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Martin, 2004; Nowak, 1991)

Food Habits

Night monkeys eat fruit, nuts, leaves, bark, flowers, plant gums, insects, and small vertebrates. Night monkey species that occur in tropical lowland forests eat a larger proportion of fruit, as fruit is more consistently available throughout the year. In dry forests, where fruit is seasonally available, night monkeys eat more leaves. They prefer small, ripe fruits and tend to forage in large canopy trees. They capture invertebrates, including moths, large orthopterans, beetles, and spiders, by grabbing them out of the air or chasing them down on tree branches. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005; Nowak, 1991)


Little is known about predation on night monkeys. Potential predators include owls, arboreal snakes, and felids. Diurnal birds of prey may take night monkeys that are not well hidden in daytime sleeping spots. Their nocturnality and their presence in the high canopy of forests protects them from many predators. Their coloration also makes them difficult to spot in low light in the high forest canopy. (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Night monkeys may help to disperse the seeds of the trees they forage in.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Night monkeys are important members of native forest ecosystems in South America. They may contribute to ecotourism, although their nocturnal and arboreal habits make them difficult to see. They may also help to disperse seeds through their frugivory. Night monkeys are used as a research model in the study of malaria because they are naturally resistant to the protozoan parasites that spread the disease (Plasmodium falciparum). (Cawthon Lang and Fernandez-Duque, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of night monkeys on humans.

Conservation Status

Aotus species are includes in CITES Appendix II and are considered "least concern" for extinction by the IUCN, with the exception of A. lemurinus and A. miconax, which are considered vulnerable. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Tanya Dewey (author), 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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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 one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


active during the night


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


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


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.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

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

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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.


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