Colobus satanasblack colobus

Geographic Range

Black colobus (Colobus satanas) are restricted to a small range in western Africa stretching from the Sanaga River in Cameroon, south through Equatorial Guinea and western and central Gabon. Their range extends as far east as the northwestern corner of Congo and as far west as Bioko Island, off the coast of Cameroon. There are two recognized subspecies. Colobus satanas satanas occupies Bioko Island, and C. s. anthracinus occupies the mainland. (Fleury and Gautier-Hion, 1999; Oates, et al., 2008)


Black colobus spend a majority of their time high in the upper canopy of primary and mature secondary rainforests. They prefer areas of forest with an abundance of tree nuts and young leaves and have large home ranges. They occasionally descend from the high branches to feed on fallen nuts, but generally remain in the canopy. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994; Martin, 2004)

Physical Description

Due to the lack of white fur on their head, body, and tail, black colobus are easily differentiated from other species in the genus Colobus. They have black, glossy coats with dark skin underneath. Young are born with brown fur, which is replaced by the characteristic black fur within a few months after birth. Like all members of the family Colobinae, black colobus have a slender build, large salivary glands, and ischial callosities (tough, hairless, nerveless pads covering the rump). They lack opposable thumbs and only a small, nailed remnant remains. They have long fingers and limbs, with back legs that are generally longer than their arms. Compared to the largely folivorous guereza, black colobus have more robust skulls and larger, flatter teeth to facilitate seed crushing. On average, adult males are larger than adult females. Adults range in mass from 4 to 14 kg, with an average of 11 kg. Head and body length ranges from 50 to 70 cm long, and their tails range from 62.5 to 88 cm long. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994; Martin, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    4 to 14 kg
    8.81 to 30.84 lb
  • Average mass
    11 kg
    24.23 lb
  • Range length
    50 (head/body); 62.5 (tail) to 70 (head/body); 88 (tail) cm
    to in


Little is know of mating behavior in black colobus. They are generally polygynous and tend to live in groups consisting of both males and female. Typically, they mate with individuals in their own group, and male-male competition for mates may occur. (Davies and Oates, 1994; Martin, 2004)

Black colobus can breed year-round. Although this species has not been studied extensively in captivity, their close relative, guerezas, give birth throughout the year. Only red colobus and olive colobus are known to have birth seasonality. Male black colobus reach sexual maturity around 6 years of age, while females reach sexual maturity by 4 years of age. Menstruation lasts approximately 1 month and is marked by visible menstrual bleeding. Once pregnant, gestation lasts for 200 days. Although single births are most common, twins are possible on rare occasions. (Martin, 2004)

  • Breeding season
    Black colobus breed year-round.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    200 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 years

Little is know of parental care in Colubus satanas. Because they are polygynous, it is thought that females provide a majority of parental care. (Martin, 2004)


There is no information available regarding the average lifespan of Colobus satanas.


Black colobus live among the treetops of the west-central African rainforest where they are known for their inactivity. They are diurnal and spend a majority of the day sitting on branches in the upper canopy while alternating between foraging and resting. They live in multimale-multifemale groups, consisting of 5 to 15 individuals, but larger groups have been observed. Black colobus are territorial, and daily activities typically begin with distinctive, high-pitched calls issued by the males to warn other troops of monkeys where they will be feeding for the day. They are seminomadic, and show little preference for any particular section of their relatively large home range. When foraging, they rarely revisit patches in which they have previously fed. When food is abundant, daily travel is significantly reduced and groups feed in a few trees for several days. When food is scarce, daily travel increases, likely as a result of increased searching for food. Black colobus are remarkable jumpers, often clearing impressive distances from one tree to another. They are also known to walk quadrupedally along tree branches. They rarely descend from the canopy to the ground. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994; Fleagle, 1999; Fleury and Gautier-Hion, 1999; Martin, 2004; McKey and Waterman, 1982)

Home Range

There is no information available regarding the average home range size of black colobus.

Communication and Perception

Black colobus have one of the most distinctive calls of all African primates. The loud, is thought to be multifunctional and may be used during male-male competition, maintaining group spacing, defending territory, or intimidating predators. They have tri-color vision and rely primarily on sight to perceive their environment. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994)

Food Habits

Black colubus are primarily granivorous and a majority of their diet consists of hard seeds and nuts. Their specialized molars have large crushing surfaces, which are thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to granivory. In addition to nuts and seeds, black colobus eat unripe fruit and leaves, particularly young leaves from lianas (i.e., long-stemmed woody vines rooted in soil). When seeds and young leaves are scarce, black colobus feed primarily on mature leaves. Like all Colobus species and similar to most ungulates (i.e., Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla), black colobus have four-chambered stomachs containing bacterial communities that help break down cellulose. Studies have shown that their preference for seeds is not contingent upon leaf quality or tree diversity throughout their home range. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994; Fleagle, 1999; Fleury and Gautier-Hion, 1999; Harrison, 1986; Martin, 2004; McKey and Waterman, 1982)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Humans are the primary predator of black colobus, as these monkeys are often hunted for bushmeat. Although information on other predators is not readily available, leopards and eagles are known to prey upon other species of Colobinae. The high-pitched roar of black colobus may be used as an anti-predator defense mechanism. (Kumpel, et al., 2008; Martin, 2004; Oates, et al., 2008)

Ecosystem Roles

Because black colobus are seminomadic granivores, they are important seed predators and likely important seed dispersers as well. Dropped seeds and fruits likely serve as an important food source for terrestrial species such as red river hogs. (Fleury and Gautier-Hion, 1999)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Black colobus monkeys are commonly hunted for their meat and fur. (Oates, et al., 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of black colobus on humans.

Conservation Status

Black colobus are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Major threats to their persistance are hunting for the bush meat trade and habitat destruction due to agriculture and logging. Population size has decreased by 30% over the past thirty years and as much as 60% on Bioko Island due to habitat loss and hunting. Black colobus have become locally extinct in areas particularly vulnerable to logging. (Martin, 2004; Oates, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

The word colobus comes from the Greek kolobós, meaning mutilated and refers to the genus’s lack of opposable thumbs. Black colobus are sometimes referred to as the Satanic colobus due to its all-black coat. They were first described by Waterhouse in 1838 and are considered the most primitive of colobine species, due to their low number of derived traits. ("Colobus Monkey", 2008; Davies and Oates, 1994; Fleury and Gautier-Hion, 1999)


Whitney Lane (author), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Mark Jordan (editor), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

  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


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


an animal that mainly eats seeds


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).


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.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


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.


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.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


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


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Fleagle, J. 1999. Primate Adaptation and Evolution. San Diego, London: Academic Press.

Fleury, M., A. Gautier-Hion. 1999. Seminomadic ranging in a population of black colobus (Colobus satanas) in Gabon and its Ecological Correlates. International Journal of Primatology, 20/4: 491-509. Accessed March 03, 2011 at

Harrison, M. 1986. Feeding Ecology of Black Colobus, Colobus satanas, in Central Gabon. Pp. 31-36 in J Else, P Lee, eds. Primate Ecology and Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Accessed March 03, 2011 at

Kumpel, N., E. Milner-Gulland, J. Rowcliffe, G. Cowlishaw. 2008. Impact of gun-hunting on diurnal primates in continental Equitorial Guinea. International Journal of Primatology, 29: 1065-1082.

Martin, R. 2004. Old World Monkeys I: Colobinae. Pp. 171-186 in Michael HutchinsDevra G. Kleiman, James B. Murphy, Dennis A. Thoney, A Evans, J Jackson, D Kleiman, J Murphy, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 2 Edition. Detroit: Gale. Accessed March 27, 2011 at

McKey, D., P. Waterman. 1982. Ranging behaviour of a group of black colobus (Colobus satanas) in the Douala-Edea Reserve, Cameroon. International Journal of Primatology, 39/3: 264-304.

Oates, J., J. Kingdon, C. Groves, D. Brugiere. 2008. "Colobus satanas" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 03, 2011 at