The Panamanian white-faced capuchin is a medium-sized New World monkey native to the forests of Central America. It is a highly intelligent monkey and has been trained to assist paraplegic persons. It is noted for its tool use, including rubbing plants over its body in an apparent use of herbal medicine and also using tools as weapons and for getting to the food. The Panamian white-faced capuchin is mostly black, but with a pink face and white on much of the front part of the body, giving it its common name. It has a distinctive prehensile tail that is often carried coiled up and is used to help support the monkey when it is feeding beneath a branch.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins are found in much of Central America and their range includes much of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. It was reported that they also occur in eastern Guatemala and southern Belize, but these reports are unconfirmed. Panamian white-faced capuchins live in many different types of forest, including mature and secondary forests, and including evergreen and deciduous forests, dry and moist forests, and mangrove and montane forests. They prefer primary or advanced secondary forests and also areas with more water availability during the dry season.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins are diurnal and arboreal animals. However, they do come down to the ground more often than many other New World monkeys. They move primarily by walking on all four limbs. Panamian white-faced capuchins live in troops, or groups, of up to 40 individuals, about three quarters of which are females. Groups consist of related females, immigrant males, and offspring. Females tend to stay within their original group while males leave their natal group when they are 4 years old and change groups every 4 years after. Both male and female capuchins exhibit different dominance behaviors within the group. Panamian white-faced capuchins forage at all levels of the forest and on the ground. They find their food by stripping bark off of trees, searching through leaf litter, breaking dead tree branches, rolling over rocks, and using stones as anvils to crack hard fruits. Their prehensile tail assists with feeding, helping support the monkey when foraging for food below the branches. Panamanian white-faced capuchins like to drink daily, so in forests where water holes dry up during the dry season, there can be competition between troops over access to the remaining water holes. These monkeys are noisy. Loud calls, such as barks and coughs, are used to communicate threat warnings, and softer calls, such as squeals, are used in intimate discourse. Different types of threats, such as a threat from a terrestrial animal versus a threat from a bird, invoke different vocalizations. Facial expressions and scent are also important forms of communication.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins are omnivores and their primary foods are fruit and insects. They also eat flowers, young leaves, seeds of certain plants, and bromeliads. Insect prey includes beetle larvae, butterfly and moth caterpillars, ants, wasps, and ant and wasp larvae. They also eat larger prey, such as birds, bird eggs, frogs, lizards, crabs, mollusks, and small mammals. The population in Guanacaste, Costa Rica in particular may hunt squirrels, magpies, white-crowned parrots, and baby coatis.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins have a polygamous mating system in which a male may mate with multiple females. There is evidence that dominant males do tend to avoid breeding with their own daughters who are members of the troop which is rare among New World primates. Females usually give birth to a single young, but twins occur occasionally. The gestation period lasts 5 to 6 months and most births occur during the dry season from December to April. First 6 weeks the infant is carried across its mother's back. After about 4 to 5 weeks it can stray from its mother for brief periods and by about 3 months it can move around independently, although some infants will be mostly independent earlier. Weaning occurs between 6 and 12 months. While the mother rests, the young spend most of its time foraging or playing, either on its own or with other juveniles. Capuchins engage in high levels of alloparenting, in which monkeys other than the mother help care for the infant. Infants are carried by alloparents most often between 4 and 6 weeks in age. Males, as well as females, engage in alloparenting. Panamanian white-faced capuchins mature slowly and reproductive maturity can be reached at 3 years. But on average, females give birth for the first time at 7 years old and give birth every 26 months thereafter. Males attain reproductive maturity when they are 10 years old.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins are not considered endangered at present. However, numbers of this species are affected by capturing for the pet trade and by deforestation.
The Panamian white-faced capuchin population number is unavailable at present from open sources and its conservation status has not been evaluated.
Panamanian white-faced capuchins are important to their ecosystems as seed and pollen dispersers. They also impact the ecosystem by eating insects that act as pests to certain trees, by pruning certain trees, causing them to generate more branches and possibly additional fruit, and by accelerating germination of certain seeds when they pass through the capuchin's digestive tract. In addition, Panamanian white-faced capuchins sometimes kill Acacia collinsii plants when they rip through the plant's branches to get to resident ant colonies.