Cebus capucinuswhite-faced capuchin

Geographic Range

Cebus capucinus is native to Central America in the Neotropical Region. They are found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and along the coast of Columbia and Ecuador. Some individuals have been reported as far south as Argentina. This species has one of the widest ranges of all New World monkeys. (Estrada, et al., 2006; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Kinzey, 1997; Miller, 2002; Moynihan, 1976; Perry, 2003; Richard, 1985; Smuts, et al., 1987; Wolfheim, 1983)


White-faced capuchins are highly adaptable and occupy a wide range of habitats. They live in a variety of wet, dry, primary, and secondary forests, but prefer tropical evergreens and dry deciduous forests. White-faced capuchins have a preference for close-canopied forests up to as high as 2100 m but mainly occupy the middle strata around 1100 m. They are common in areas high in humidity and well-drained lowlands. Occasionally, they have been found in volcanic foothills and coastal plains. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Kinzey, 1997; Wolfheim, 1983)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2100 m
    0.00 to 6889.76 ft
  • Average elevation
    1100 m
    3608.92 ft

Physical Description

White-faced capuchins have distinctive markings that distinguish them from other capuchin monkeys. Their dorsum and hindquarters are solid black, while the upper chest, forearms, and the fur around the face are white. They have tan-colored facial skin and a black cap on their heads. White-faced capuchins have prehensile tails, used for grasping and carrying food and for added postural support. They reach their full adult size by age 8. Males weigh between 3 and 4 kg and females weigh between 2 and 3 kg. This is the greatest degree of sexual dimorphism among the capuchins. They are primarily quadrupedal, but are also excellent leapers and climbers. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Gerber and Rehg, 1999; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Kinzey, 1997; Moynihan, 1976; Smuts, et al., 1987)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2 to 4 kg
    4.41 to 8.81 lb
  • Range length
    435 (high) mm
    17.13 (high) in


White-faced capuchins are polygamous, with males and females having multiple partners. There is a dominance hierarchy among males, with alpha males having more mating opportunities. However, subordinate males are also allowed to mate. Alpha males spend a large portion of their time engaged in deterring predators and males from outside groups. Providing his group with this protection gives the alpha male precedence over the other males in mating opportunities. Males and females engage in a set of specific vocalizations, facial expressions, and postures before copulation. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Kinzey, 1997; Smuts, et al., 1987)

Females give birth to a single offspring at about 2 year intervals. Breeding is seasonal, with peak female fertility from January to April. Mating occurs outside of these months but rarely results in conceptions. Gestation last for an average of 160 days. Adult females become sexually mature around age 4, but typically don't give birth until age 7. Males become sexually mature at 7 to 10 years old. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Kinzey, 1997; Smuts, et al., 1987)

  • Breeding interval
    White-faced capuchins breed year-round, though females only conceive once every 2 years, on average.
  • Breeding season
    Peak breeding is between January and April.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 (high)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    157 to 167 days
  • Average gestation period
    160 days
  • Range weaning age
    2 to 4 months
  • Range time to independence
    4 to 8 years
  • Average time to independence
    7 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 7 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 to 10 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 years

Primary care for infants is provided by the mother. Females carry, protect, and feed the young until they are able to take care of themselves. Males do not help with care of infants, but may assist young in the social hierarchy once they are independent. Alpha males help to protect members of their group from intruders and predators. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Kinzey, 1997)

  • 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


White-faced capuchin maximum lifespan in captivity is 55 years. Wild lifespan may be less than half of that. Factors such as predation, disease, and infection from wounds sustained while fighting are all responsible for many deaths each year. Tree removal, logging, and clearcutting are indirectly the leading cause of white-face capuchin death by drastically reducing suitable habitats. (Eisenberg, 1989; Estrada, et al., 2006; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Smuts, et al., 1987; Wolfheim, 1983)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    55 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    30 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    45 (high) years


White-faced capuchins are highly social and live in multi male - multi female groups of 18 to 20. Females are philopatric and stay with the group they are born into; males leave around age 4 to find a place in a new group. White-faced capuchins are diurnal primates and are very active during the day. They sleep at night. White-faced capuchins are playful and inquisitive, they play extensively and are especially interested in taking things apart. This behavior is more frequently observed in captive settings but also occurs in the wild. White-faced capuchins are energetic and active. Social play is common among all group members, especially juveniles, who spend considerable amount of time playing and wrestling. Juveniles also rely heavily on social learning; observing adults to learn essential behaviors and skills. (Kinzey, 1997; Moynihan, 1976; Perry, 2003; Richard, 1985; Smuts, et al., 1987)

  • Average territory size
    0.8 km^2

Home Range

White-faced capuchins have a home range of approximately 80 ha or 0.8 square km. They defend territories against other capuchins. When an intruder is noticed individuals will give an alarm call and the group will either flee or swarm the intruder. In 100 sq. km of Santa Rosa Park there are between 250 and 350 white-faced capuchins. (Kinzey, 1997; Moynihan, 1976; Perry, 2003; Smuts, et al., 1987)

Communication and Perception

White-faced capuchins are highly social and communication is very important. Individuals spend a great deal of time in social bonding and establishing trust. And example is hand-sniffing, where one monkey will stick his/her fingers in the other monkey's nose and then other monkey repeats the activity. This can last for several minutes and is done with a trance-like expression. They may also suck on each other's fingers and tails for long periods of time. White-faced capuchins also play mouth games, where one individual will insert something into their mouth, whether it be the other monkey's finger, a patch of fur, or some inanimate object. The object of this game is to pry the item out of the others mouth, and then the object is either placed back in the mouth to start a new game, or they take turns and switch roles. When predators approach, white-faced capuchins use trill vocalizations to coordinate movement in the group. A different alarm call is used to alert others that a predator or intruder in nearby. (Kinzey, 1997; Perry, 2003; Radick, 2007)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

White-faced capuchins eat a wide variety of plants and animals. Their primary diet is a variety of fruits and nuts, but insects, other invertebrates, and small vertebrates are taken opportunistically. Vertebrates eaten include squirrels, tree rats, lizards, and birds. The diet varies regionally and seasonally, but generally consists of about 50 to 80% fruit, 20 to 30% animal material, and 10% other plant material. White-faced capuchins eat frequently and are adventurous in their food choices. They will try almost anything once and learn through trial and error about what is edible or desirable. One study showed that they ate 63 different plant species from 34 families at Santa Rosa Park. They are excellent foragers from a very young age. As young as 1 year old they are able to seek out food almost as well as adults, their only limitations being size and strength. (Chapman and Fedigan, 1990; Estrada, et al., 2006; Kinzey, 1997; Miller, 2002; Moynihan, 1976)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • sap or other plant fluids


The most common predators of white-face capuchins are snakes, especially tree boas (Corallus) and lanceheads (Bothrops). Caimans, cats, such as jaguars and ocelots and large raptors, such as harpy eagles, also prey on these capuchins. White-face capuchins sound alarm calls when they spot a predator. Living in tight-knit social groups helps them to stay vigilant against predators. Groups threatened by a predator will either flee or mob the predator. (Miller, 2002; Perry, 2003)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

White-faced capuchins play an important role in seed dispersal, influencing forest regeneration. Blood-born nematode (roundworm) parasites of this monkey include: Microfilaria panamensis, Tetrapetalonema panamensis, and Dipetalonema obtusa. (Chapman and Fedigan, 1990; Emmons, 1990; Esslinger, 1966; Esslinger, 1979; Grzimek and Gold, 2004; Nowak, 1991; Semple, et al., 2002)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Microfilaria panamensis
  • Tetrapetalonema panamensis
  • Dipetalonema obtusa

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

White-face capuchins are hunted for food and commonly kept as pets and collected in zoos. Most capuchins in zoos are bred in captivity; few are from the wild. (Emmons, 1990; Nowak, 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White-faced capuchins can be carriers of various diseases while in the wild, and because they are caught for the pet trade, these disease can be transmitted to humans. White-faced capuchins are known carriers of malaria and microfilaria. These diseases appear to be more prevalent in infants and juveniles, possibly because of their weaker immune systems. White-faced capuchins can also eat fruit crops. (Emmons, 1990; Esslinger, 1966; Nowak, 1991; Porter, Jr., et al., 1966; Semple, et al., 2002)

Conservation Status

White-face capuchins are widespread and their populations are not currently considered threatened. The main pressures they face are habitat degradation, deforestation, and being hunted for food. (Grzimek and Gold, 2004)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

John Long (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor, instructor), Radford University.



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.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


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.

  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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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).


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


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.


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.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


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).

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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Eisenberg, J. 1989. Mammals of the Neotropics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

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Esslinger, J. 1979. Tetrapetalonema (T.) panamensis (McCoy, 1936) comb. n. (Filarioidea: Onchocercidae) in Colombian Primates, with a Description of the Adults. Journal of Parasitology, 65/6: 924-927.

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