Natural History of the White-throated Capuchin (Cebus capucinus)

Carpenteria, an adult female capuchin with her newborn dorsal

Adult female capuchin with her infant on her back

Cebus capucinus, is the only species of genus  Cebus, or capuchin monkey that occurs in the Republic of Panama.  They are the only monkeys in Panama with entirely light colored skin covering their facial region.   They are called as mono carablanca in Panama. They are sometimes called white-throated, white headed or white faced capuchins in English.  Here, we'll refer to them as  white-throated capuchins.  This monkey has a white to yellow throat, head and shoulders.  The white-throated capuchin occurs in countries from Honduras to Ecuador. Infants, such as the one in the picture above,  are carried on the backs of their mothers for the first several months. After 4 months infants start to move with the group on their own, but if they are unable to keep up their mothers assist. (Opperheimer, 1968). . Males reach full adult size at about eight years of age, females mature at a younger age (Robinson & Janson, 1987).  Capuchins were once fairly common along the Panama canal but they are becomming harder to see.  One often knows they are present by their noisey travel.   They crash through branches, tear apart leaf litter in trees and emit an ‘arrawh ’ loud call when out of contact with other group members.  Capuchins are often hunted for pets, for food, or killed as competitors for food crops.   Since capuchins are quite intelligent they therefore tend to avoid people so they are not frequently seen. 

Infant capuchin at the Primate Foundation of Panama adult male capuchin
infant male capuchin adult male capuchin

Capuchins are sometimes kept as pets in Panama.   When young they are expressive and affectionate.  As they mature however, their strength, inquisitive nature, and cunning can make them dangerous and destructive in households.  At young adult age, most people who have kept them as pets in their home, seek out zoos and conservation organizations to take over their care.  
Here is the story of one such capuchin who was much cared for by his owners.  Monkeys have not been domesticated by living with people in their households for thousands of years like dogs or cats.  As a result, when adult, they have a wild animals' reaction to being startled, punished or frustrated. Capuchins are large and strong enough to seriously injure people. 

Distribution in Panama

Rylands et al. (2006) show the white-throated capuchin occurring throughout Panama.  This may have been the historical geographical distribution of this species but, of course, the species today exists in patches within this original distribution.  They probably occur in most of the national parks in the Republic of Panama.  They are also known to occur in Western Veraguas where they are part to the diet of Bugle Indians (Smith, 2005).

Life development

Table 2: Live development shows the values of the different parameters to indicate the live development of Cebus capucinus.


12 months (Rowe, 1996).

Sexual maturity

36 months (Rowe, 1996).


157-167 days (Rowe, 1996).

Age of first birth

48 months (Rowe, 1996).

Birth interval

19 months (Rowe, 1996).

Life span

46.9 years (Rowe, 1996).

The birth-peak is in December till April. Infants are born with a gray face and ears, but look like the adults by three months. (Rowe, 1996). Cebus produce infants about every two years if the infant survives, but every year if the infant is lost before the next breeding season. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

Physical characteristics

Table 1: Physical characteristics

Body length

335-435mm (Rowe, 1996).

Tail length

350-551mm (Rowe, 1996).


Males:3868g (Rowe, 1996), Females: 2666g (Rowe, 1996).

Adult brain weight

79.2g (Rowe, 1996).


Cebus capucinus lives in primary and secondary evergreen rain forest, mangroves, deciduous dry forest from sea level to 2100m. The main canopy is preferred. (Rowe, 1996).


Cebus are frugivore-insectivores. They supplement their diet with invertebrates. Cebus are manipulative foragers and take advantage of their size and strength to reach prey hidden inside the bases of palm fronds, dead twigs, branches, etc. Cebus takes only small qualities of leaf material. (Robinson & Janson, 1987). Males forage near or on the ground for large vertebrates and invertebrates. (Rowe, 1996). Because foraging for invertebrates is time-consuming, they spend 70-80% of their day foraging and moving between foraging sites, and they allocate more time in foraging for invertebrates than feeding on fruits. (Robinson & Janson, 1987). The diet of Cebus capucinus consist for 65% of fruit, 15% leaves, 20% berries, nuts, seeds, shoots, buds and flowers, gums, bark, and animal matter, including insects, spiders, small vertebrates (birds, infant squirrels, agoutis, baby coatimundis, and lizards), eggs, crabs, and oysters. (Rowe, 1996). Cebus moves to different locations within their large ranges in order to exploit seasonally fruiting trees. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

White-throated capuchins, like many primates, enhance the health of the forest by pollinating some plants and dispersing the seeds of others (Rowe, 1996), and are sometimes important in pollinating flowers. (Opperheimer, 1968). When they, for example, eat the buds of Gustavia simaruba, branching of the tree increases, enhancing fruit productions. (Rowe, 1996).


Cebus capucinus move quadrupedally (using four limbs for locomotion), and they can jump to 3-4m. (Rowe, 1996). Their prehensile tail is used to assist in movement, stabilize their position and sometimes to grasp objects. 

Social structure

Cebus form multimale-multifemale groups with more females than males (Rowe, 1996), although a single male may occur with several females when groups are small. Unbalanced sex ratios are partly the result of the later maturation of males, since the sex ratio bias nearly disappears when both adults and subadults are counted. (Robinson & Janson, 1987). Males defend the territory (Rowe, 1996). 


Migrants move directly from one group into another, and solitary animals are rarely observed. (Robinson & Janson, 1987). There is a possibility that young males leave the group for several years, and then rejoin their old group or a new one. (Opperheimer, 1968).

Group size

Groups of Cebus capucinus range form 10 to 20 individuals. (Rowe, 1996).

Home range

The home range of Cebus capucinus is 32-85.5 ha. (Rowe, 1996).

Day range

Cebus capucinus day range is 1200-2000m (Rowe, 1996), which rely on both fruits and insects. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

Sleeping site White-throated capuchins has been observed to spend 47% of its nights in 1 sleeping tree in the core area of its home range. Groups of 2-4 individuals sleep together. (Rowe, 1996).


Cebus capucinus are diurnal (active during the day) and arboreal (adapted to life in trees). Jumping up and down and shaking branches are part of the threat display. (Rowe, 1996). 

Activity pattern

Cebus capucinus is active before dawn and is often noisy. (Rowe, 1996).

Intra-group Relations among Cebus capucinus

Allogrooming increases during the birth season and the dry season, when foraging is done in the ground and there are more ticks. (Rowe, 1996). Grooming is the principal activity of adults during rest periods in Cebus. Mothers regularly groom their infants. Dominant individuals are usually involved in a disproportionately high percentage of grooming bouts and often receive far more grooming than they give. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

Males over eight years of age, protect the group from danger, such as the old males of other groups or predators. (Oppenheimer, 1968). Male-male competition is less obvious in Cebus than in some primate species. Usually a single female is in estrus at a time, and males rarely fight over access to her. Although the dominant male does not guard the estrous female, he is the only one to achieve substantial mating success. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

Dominance ranks of all the animals within Cebus groups are linear, and rank reversals rare. Cebus females have been observed to form successful coalitions against males. In addition, the highest-ranking female in Cebus is dominant to all but the highest-ranking male. Thus, spatial relationships within the group and access to resources can be largely regulated by females. Subadults and juveniles of both sexes frequently dominate some adult females. The dominant male and female are the two highest-ranked animals in the group, and most agonistic interactions involve either this male, the female, or both. As in most other primate species, kinship appears to influence the distribution of female aggression. Females show little aggression toward their dependent offspring and are often relatively tolerant of their older juveniles as well. Males may also show reduced aggression toward potential offspring. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).

The relationship characterized by the most frequent affiliative interactions is that of the mother and her youngest offspring. The most common affiliative behaviors are directed by adult females to other females and to the adult male of the group. Adult females and juveniles of both sexes show great interest in infants from birth until about two months of age and will attempt to touch or pull an infant off its mothers back. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).  

As infants become independent they engage in play with other infants and juveniles. Play, however, was most prominent in juveniles, and particularly between male juveniles. Dominance relationships among animals of the same age appear to be established during play interactions. Play consist of chasing, pulling, wrestling, and mouthing. (Opperheimer, 1968).


Fourteen different calls are recognized, including an ‘arrawh’ loud call given when an individual is out of sight of the group and wants to regain contact. A ‘purr’ is a friendly appeasement call. (Rowe, 1996).

Facial expressions and body movements are used to convey information. Individual odor might also be of some importance in communication. Some odorous plants are rubbed into the fur, and adult males often rub urine onto their arms, feet and tails. (Opperheimer, 1968). Scent marks are made by urinating on hands, feet, and tail tip. (Rowe, 1996).

Relationships among other animals

Cebus capucinus occasionally associates with black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). (Rowe, 1996). Cebus are vulnerable to predators and give alarm calls to large carnivorous mammals, boas, and almost any large flying bird. (Robinson & Janson, 1987).


Opperheimer, J.R., 1968. The white-faced monkey on Barro Colorado Island, Canal Zone. Washington D.C. :Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Primate Info Net,  Capuchin monkey Cebus

Robinson, J. G. & Janson, C. H. 1987. Capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and Atelines: Socioecological convergence with old world monkeys. Primate societies. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 69-82.

Rowe, N., 1996. The pictorial guide to the living primates. East Hampton, New York: Pogonias Press.

Rylands, A. B., Groves, C. P., Mittermeier, R. A., Cort´es-Ortiz, L., and Hines, J. J. H. 2006,  CHAPTER TWO Taxonomy and Distributions of Mesoamerican PrimatesNew Perspectives in the Study of Mesoamerican Primates Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects, Part One, 29-79.

Smith, D. A. (2005). Garden Game: Shifting Cultivation, Indigenous Hunting and Wildlife Ecology in Western Panama. Human Ecology, 33,  505-537.

Wikipedia, Panamanian Monkey Species

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