Central American Squirrel Monkey

Central American Squirrel Monkey

Red-backed squirrel monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, Red-backed squirrel monkey

Saimiri oerstedii
Population size
Life Span
15-20 years
g oz 
mm inch 

The Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii ), also known as the red-backed squirrel monkey, is a squirrel monkey species from the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Panama. It is restricted to the northwestern tip of Panama near the border with Costa Rica, and the central and southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, primarily in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks.

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It is a small monkey with an orange back and a distinctive white and black facial mask. It has an omnivorous diet, eating fruits, other plant materials, invertebrates and some small vertebrates. In turn, it has a number of predators, including raptors, cats and snakes. It lives in large groups that typically contain between 20 and 75 monkeys. It has one of the most egalitarian social structures of all monkeys. Females do not form dominance hierarchies, and males do so only at breeding season. Females become sexually mature at 2+1⁄2 years, and males at 4 to 5 years. Sexually mature females leave the natal group, but males can remain with their natal group their entire life. The Central American squirrel monkey can live for more than 15 years.

The Central American squirrel monkey population declined precipitously after the 1970s. This decline is believed to be caused by deforestation, hunting, and capture to be kept as pets. Efforts are underway to preserve the species.

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Central American squirrel monkeys are small monkeys with an orange back and a distinctive white and black facial mask. They have olive shoulders, hips and tail and white undersides. The hands and feet are also orange. There is a black cap at the top of the head, and a black tip at the end of the tail. Males generally have lighter caps than females. The face is white with black rims around the eyes and black around the nose and mouth. Central American squirrel monkeys do not have a fully prehensile tail, except as newborn infants, and the tail is primarily used to help with balance.




Biogeographical realms

Central American squirrel monkeys have a restricted distribution in Costa Rica and Panama. They live only near the Pacific coast. Their range covers Central Pacific Costa Rica in the north through western Panama. They live in two of Costa Rica's national parks - Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park. These monkeys live in lowland forests and are restricted to secondary forests and primary forests. They requires forests with abundant low and mid-level vegetation.

Central American Squirrel Monkey habitat map

Climate zones

Central American Squirrel Monkey habitat map
Central American Squirrel Monkey
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Habits and Lifestyle

Central American squirrel monkeys are arboreal and diurnal, and most often moves through the trees on four legs. They live in groups containing several adult males, adult females and juveniles. The group generally numbers 20-75 monkeys, with a mean of 41 monkeys. On average, groups contain about 60% more females than males. During the day groups can travel between 2,500-4,200 m (8,200-13,800 ft) and do not split into separate groups when foraging. Unlike other squirrel monkeys, the group of Central American squirrel monkeys sleeps in the same trees every night for months at a time. There are no dominance hierarchies among the females, and they do not form coalitions. Males in the group are generally related to each other and only form dominance hierarchies during the breeding season. Neither males nor females are dominant over each other. Central American squirrel monkeys are noisy creatures. They make many squeals, whistles and chirps. They also travel through the forest noisily, disturbing vegetation as they move through. They have four main calls, which are described as a "smooth chuck", a "bent mask chuck", a "peep" and a "twitter".

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Central American squirrel monkeys are omnivorous. Their diet includes insects and insect larvae (grasshoppers, caterpillars), spiders, fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, and nectar. They also eat small vertebrates, including bats, birds, lizards, and tree frogs.

Mating Habits

6 months
1 infant
1 year

Little is known about the mating system in Central American squirrel monkeys. The breeding season occurs in September. A month or two before the breeding season begins, males become larger due to altered water balance within their body. Males within a group have not been observed fighting over access to females and it is believed that it's females who choose which males get to breed with them. Males sometimes leave their group for short periods of time during the breeding season in order to try to mate with females from neighboring groups. Females usually give birth to a single infant. The gestation period lasts 6 months, and the infants are born within a single week during February and March. The infant remains dependent on its mother for about one year. Females become reproductively mature at 2,5 years old, while males attain maturity at 4-5 years old. The females leave their natal group upon reaching reproductive maturity, while males usually remain with their group for their entire lives.


Population threats

The main threats to Central American squirrel monkeys include deforestation of their habiat, hunting, and capture to be kept as pets.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Central American squirrel monkey is unknown. However, the remaining wild population of the subscpecies Grey-crowned Central American squirrel monkey is estimated to be around 1,300 to 1,800 individuals. Currently the Central American squirrel monkey is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Due to their diet, Central American squirrel monkeys are important seed dispersers and pollinators of certain flowers, including the passion flower. They eat corn, coffee, bananas, mangos, cecropias, legumes, figs, palms, cerillo, quiubra, yayo flaco and wild cashew fruits.

Coloring Pages


1. Central American Squirrel Monkey on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_American_squirrel_monkey
2. Central American Squirrel Monkey on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/19836/9022609

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