Cercopithecus nictitanswhite-nosed guenon

Geographic Range

Cercopithecus nictitans occupies a variety of dense forest habitats in western and central Africa, ranging from Guinea in the west to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the east. Populations are found in Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Bitty and McGraw, 2007; Oates and Groves, 2011)


Cercopithecus nictitans is found in the moist tropical lowland and montane forests, tropical swamp and mangrove forests, and dense gallery forests of west and central Africa. Activity is mostly confined to the main canopy layer due to their robust size. They descend voluntarily to the ground only rarely. (Bitty and McGraw, 2007; Manaster, 1979)

Physical Description

Cercopithecus nictitans, also known as white-nosed guenons, greater spot-nosed monkeys, greater white-nosed monkeys, or putty-nosed monkeys, is most easily recognized by a distinctive white spot covering the nose. Their fur is dark, ranging in color from olive to black, and sometimes have a white patch on the breast. They have cheek pouches in which to store food while foraging. Individuals weigh, on average, between 4.2 and 6.6 kilograms, making them one of the largest of the Cercopithecus group. Sexual dimorphism is evident, with males exhibiting a greater length and body mass than females. They are diurnal and, like all guenons, possess trichromatic vision. Greater spot-nosed monkeys are primarily arboreal, but also move through the forest quadrupedally. Grubb et al. (2003) recognized two subspecies, C. nictitans nictitans and C. nictitans martini, based on geographic range. Cercopithecus nictitans nictitans occupies the eastern section of the range, from Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Cercopithecus nictitans martini is thought to represent the western populations of several distinct subspecies, such as one on the island of Bioko. (Cardini and Elton, 2008; Flannery, 2007; Grubb, et al., 2003; Kingdon, 1988; Kingdon, 1997; Oates and Groves, 2011; Rollinson and Martin, 1981; Sumner and Mollon, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4.2 to 6.6 kg
    9.25 to 14.54 lb


Greater spot-nosed monkeys have a polygynous mating system, in which one resident adult male resides with several adult females and their offspring. The lone male has exclusive breeding access to all of the females. Male tenures of 5 years are common. Females solicit copulation by presenting their estrous swellings to males. During copulation, the females look over their shoulders and pout, with the lower lip pushed forward and down. Greater spot-nosed monkeys exhibit female philopatry, in which males disperse from natal groups upon adolescence and females stay in their natal range. (Cords, 1987; Estes, 1991; Nowak, 1999; Zuberbuehler, 2002)

Females reach maturity around 4 years of age. Once pregnant, they gestate for 172 days on average. They give birth to one offspring approximately every two years. There is little information available on the reproductive cycle, breeding season, and parental investment of greater spot-nosed monkeys. However, it is assumed that, like other Cercopithecus species, the young are relatively well-developed at birth and that mothers will invest in their own offspring for approximately six months. (de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Greater spot-nosed monkeys breed once every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is unknown, but it is probably year-round, as in Cercopithecus mitis.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    172 days
  • Average time to independence
    4 years

There is little information regarding the level of parental investment in Cercopithecus nictitans, although females certainly invest heavily in offspring through gestation, lactation, and juvenile protection.

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Longevity in the wild has not been recorded, but like other Cercopithecus species, greater spot-nosed monkeys probably live for approximately 20 years. (de Magalhaes and Costa, 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    31 (high) years


Greater spot-nosed monkeys are generally social, found in groups of between 12 and 30 animals. There is evidence of intra-group competition for alpha male status. They are primarily active in the middle tree canopy, and frequently exhibit acrobatic movements such as leaping and darting. Their habitat overlaps with that of Diana monkeys, Cercopithecus diana. It is thought that the two species form mixed-species groups for the purpose of predation defense and shared foraging opportunities. (Arnold and Zuberbuehler, 2008; Boinski and Garber, 2000; Eckardt and Zuberbuehler, 2004; Manaster, 1979; Oates and Groves, 2011)

Home Range

The exact home range of Cercopithecus nictitans is unknown, but it may be similar to that of Cercopithecus diana, which has a territory size of between 0.5 and 1 square kilometer. (Kennedy, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Auditory, olfactory, visual, and tactile senses are complex, as in most primates. Greater spot-nosed monkeys are especially known for their wide range of vocalizations, which vary from deep booms to chirps, depending on context. Males perform loud, low-frequency boom calls to communicate territoriality and as a predator alarm call. Females and subadults often use short chirps to attract the attention of the group. Loud isolation calls are emitted both by infants and members of the group that have become separated from the troop. Olfactory communication includes mutual genital sniffing and muzzle sniffing, both of which are performed by males. Visual signals include staring, which is often accompanied by head-bobbing in order to indicate a threat display among males. Grimacing or yawning with the canines exposed is an expression of tension or a threat display. (Estes, 1991; Flannery, 2007; Gautier and Gautier, 1977; Zuberbuehler, 2002)

Food Habits

Greater spot-nosed monkeys are primarily frugivorous and granivorous. Like most Old World Monkeys, they have cheek pouches in which to store seeds while foraging. They supplement their diets of fruits and seeds with leaves and insects, and occasionally agricultural crops. (Chapman, et al., 2002; Flannery, 2007; Jeffery, et al., 2009; Macdonald, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers


Male Cercopithecus nictitans sound resonating alarm calls to warn the group of predators and enemies. Their dark coloring also acts as camouflage within the dark tree canopy, allowing them to hide from predators, such as leopards, crowned eagles, and humans. (Arnold and Zuberbuehler, 2008; Estes, 1991; Gautier and Gautier, 1977; Zuberbuehler, 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Like many other frugivorous Old World monkeys, Cercopithecus nictitans likely plays a large role in seed dispersal, as they often ingest fruits and seeds away from the parent site. Cercopithecus nictitans has been reported to live in mixed-species groups with Cercopithecus diana for mutual predator defense and increased foraging opportunities. Humans (Homo sapiens) hunt them for bushmeat, and also to prevent the greater spot-nosed monkeys from destroying their crops. Greater spot-nosed monkeys carry a variety of parasites, including a primate-specific strain of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum). (Boinski and Garber, 2000; Eckardt and Zuberbuehler, 2004; Oates and Groves, 2011; Pourrut, et al., 2011; Prugnolle, et al., 2011)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cercopithecus nictitans is hunted and eaten by humans. They may positively impact forest diversity through seed dispersal. (Oates and Groves, 2011)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Greater spot-nosed monkeys, like other guenons, have been reported to feed on agricultural crops. (Oates and Groves, 2011)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Greater spot-nosed monkeys are threatened by habitat loss through deforestation and by hunting for meat, especially in the western portion of its range. On the island of Bioko, populations of C. nictitans martini have undergone steep declines, exceeding 50% during the period of 1986 to 2006.

Populations are known to occur in several protected national parks in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. They are listed on Appendix II of CITES and on Class B of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Cercopithecus nictitans nictitans is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN due to its widespread range and relatively slow rate of population decline. Cercopithecus nictitans martini is classified as vulnerable due to restricted habitat range, ongoing habitat loss, and hunting pressure. (Hearn, et al., 2006; Oates and Groves, 2011)

Other Comments

The taxonomy of Cercopithecus nictitans is contentious. Grubb et al. (2003) list two subspecies, the geographically widespread C. nictitans nictitans and the more restricted C. nictitans martini, but an isolated population of the latter is thought to represent a distinct and possibly threatened subspecies. A recent morphometric analysis (Cardini & Elton, 2008) misclassified Cercopithecus diana within the Cercopithecus mitis species group, which includes Cercopithecus nictitans, Cercopithecus albogularis, and Cercopithecus mitis. The inclusion of Cercopithecus nictitans within the Cercopithecus mitis species group was confirmed by a recent molecular analysis (Tosi et al., 2005), which supports Cercopithecus albogularis as the sister taxon of C. nictitans. (Cardini and Elton, 2008; Grubb, et al., 2003; Oates and Groves, 2011; Tosi, et al., 2005)

Cercopithecus nictitans is colloquially known as the “cowardly monkey” because of its high frequency and range of alarm calls.


Alexandra Neinast (author), Yale University, Eric Sargis (editor), Yale University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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.

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

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


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 mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


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.

native range

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


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.


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.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


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

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Arnold, K., K. Zuberbuehler. 2008. Meaningful call combinations in a non-human primate. Current Biology, 18: 202-203.

Bitty, E., W. McGraw. 2007. Locomotion and Habitat Use of Stampflii's Putty-Nosed Monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans stampflii) in the Tai National Park, Ivory Coast. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 134: 383-391.

Boinski, S., P. Garber. 2000. On the Move: How and why Animals Travel in Groups. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cardini, A., S. Elton. 2008. Variation in guenon skulls (I): species divergence, ecological and genetic differences. Journal of Human Evolution, 54: 615-637.

Chapman, C., L. Chapman, M. Cords, J. Gathua, A. Gautier-Hion, J. Lambert, K. Rode, C. Tutin, L. White. 2002. K., Tutin, C. E. G., and White, L. J. T. 2002. Variation in the diets of Cercopithecus species: Differences within forests, among forests and across species. Pp. 325-350 in M Glenn, M Cords, eds. The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Cords, M. 1987. Mixed-species association of Cercopithecus monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. University of California Publications in Zoology, 117: 1-109.

Eckardt, W., K. Zuberbuehler. 2004. Cooperation and competition in two forest monkeys. Behavioral Ecology, 15: 400-411.

Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Flannery, S. 2007. "Greater White-nosed Monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans)" (On-line). The Primata. Accessed March 27, 2012 at http://www.theprimata.com/cercopithecus_nictitans.html.

Gautier, J., A. Gautier. 1977. Communication in old world monkeys. Pp. 890-964 in T Sebeok, ed. How Animals Communicate. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Grubb, P., T. Butynski, J. Oates, S. Bearder, T. Disotell, C. Groves, T. Struhsaker. 2003. Assessment of the diversity of African primates. International Journal of Primatology, 24: 1301-1357.

Hearn, G., W. Morra, T. Butynski. 2006. Monkeys In Trouble: The Rapidly Deteriorating Conservation Status Of The Monkeys On Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Bioko, Equatorial Guinea: Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP).

Jeffery, K., F. Maisels, T. Barbry. 2009. Cercopithecus nictitans prey on air-borne termites in Gabon, Central Africa. African Journal of Ecology, 48: 563-565.

Kennedy, K. 1999. "Cercopithecus diana" (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 28, 2012 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Cercopithecus_diana.html.

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. London: Academic Press.

Kingdon, J. 1988. What are face patterns and do they contribute to reproductive isolation in guenons?. Pp. 227-245 in F Gautier-Hion, J Gautier, J Kingdon, eds. A Primate Radiation: Evolutionary Biology of the African Guenons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macdonald, D. 2001. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manaster, B. 1979. Locomotor adaptations within the Cercopithecus genus: a multivariate approach. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 50: 169-182.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Oates, J., C. Groves. 2011. "Cercopithecus nictitans" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Accessed March 28, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/4224/0.

Pourrut, X., J. Diffo, R. Somo, C. Bilong Bilong, E. Delaporte, M. LeBreton, J. Gonzalez. 2011. Prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites in primate bushmeat and pets in Cameroon. Veterinary Parasitology, 175: 187-191.

Prugnolle, F., B. Ollomo, P. Durand, E. Yalcindag, C. Arnathau, E. Elguero, A. Berry, X. Pourrot, J. Gonzalez, D. Nkoghe, J. Akiana, D. Verrier, E. Leroy, F. Ayala, F. Renaud. 2011. African monkeys are infected by Plasmodium falciparum nonhuman primate-specific strains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 11948–11953.

Rollinson, J., R. Martin. 1981. Comparative aspects of primate locomotion, with special reference to arboreal cercopithecines. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London, 48: 377-427.

Sumner, P., J. Mollon. 2000. Catarrhine photopigments are optimized for detecting targets against a foliage background. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 203: 1963-1986.

Tosi, A., K. Detwiler, T. Disotell. 2005. X-chromosomal window into the evolutionary history of the guenons (Primates: Cercopithecini). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 36: 58-66.

Zuberbuehler, K. 2002. A syntactic rule in forest monkey communication. Animal Behaviour, 63: 293-299.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. "AnAge entry for Cercopithecus nictitans" (On-line). The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database. Accessed March 29, 2012 at http://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Cercopithecus_nictitans.