Black-Handed Spider Monkey

CLASS:  Mammalia
ORDER:  Primates
FAMILY:  Cebidae
TAXONOMIC NAME:  Ateles geoffroyi

RANGE:  Southern Mexico, from Veracruz throughout most of Central America to western Panama.  Other species of spider monkey are in South America.

HABITAT:  Tropical and subtropical rain forests.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:  Head to body length ranges from 15 – 25 inches and the tail adds another 20 – 35 inches.  The average weight is 13 – 17 pounds.  Most have coarse, stringy hair, but some have a soft, fine coat.  They can be either a light or a dark color phase, with the light phase ranging in color from yellowish gray to reddish brown, and the dark phase ranging from dark brown to almost black.  The belly is usually a lighter whitish or yellowish color.  Most have a dark face with white eye rings, but some have flesh-colored faces.  They have exceptionally long legs and tails in relation to the length of the body.  Their prehensile tail is extremely flexible and has bare skin on the tip of the underside.  The thumbs are poorly developed or lacking.  The head is small with a prominent muzzle.  The clitoris of the female is greatly elongated, so that it is often mistaken for the penis of the male.

LONGEVITY:  Approximately 18 years in the wild and between 25 – 30 years in captivity.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE:  Social with troop size varying considerably.  Groups contain an average of 8 – 10 individuals and a maximum of 40 individuals.


DIETWild:  Primarily fruits and nuts supplemented with insects, shoots, blossoms, baby birds or eggs.

           Zoo:  Canned primate diet, leaf eater biscuits, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens.

BEHAVIOR:  They spend the majority of the morning hours foraging for food and the remainder of the day is primarily spent resting and mutually grooming each other.  Their social structure consists of large, mutually exclusive communities which break into smaller groups to feed.  Their territory is well defined with rest stops, food areas and lodging trees within its boundaries.  They are very agile and move swiftly through the trees, using semi-brachiation (hand over hand movements).  Their tail is used as a fifth arm or leg and they can hang suspended by only their tail.  When bothered, they will often break off portions of tree branches and drop them attempting to hit the source of their annoyance.  They will also emit dog-like barks when alarmed.  The most frequently heard call resembles the whinnying of a horse and is a contact call made when the monkeys are separated.

REPRODUCTION:  There is no set breeding season.  Gestation lasts approximately 140 – 225 days.  Only one baby is born at a time and the inter-birth interval is two to four years.  The young are weaned around 6 – 10 months.  Sexual maturity is reached at about 4 years of age for females and 5 years for males.


  • Their prehensile tail is the most highly developed of any primate. 
  • Their genus name, “Ateles,” means “imperfect” and refers to the absence of thumbs.
  • They can leap 20 feet though the air to land safely in another tree.

CONSERVATION STATUS:  Black-Handed Spider Monkeys are endangered, largely due to habitat loss.

RELATIONSHIP WITH PEOPLE:  Their habitat continues to be destroyed for logging and agricultural purposes.  They are also hunted for as food and to be sold as pets.  They need large areas of mature, unbroken rainforest to survive.