Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkey
Squirrel monkeys[1]
Common Squirrel Monkey
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Cebidae
Subfamily: Saimiriinae
Miller, 1912 (1900)
Genus: Saimiri
Voigt, 1831
Type species
Simia sciureus
Linnaeus, 1758

Saimiri oerstedii
Saimiri sciureus
Saimiri ustus
Saimiri boliviensis
Saimiri vanzolini

The squirrel monkeys are the New World monkeys of the genus Saimiri. They are the only genus in the subfamily Saimirinae.

Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America in the canopy layer. Most species have parapatric or allopatric ranges in the Amazon, while S. oerstedii is found disjunctly in Costa Rica and Panama.

Squirrel monkey fur is short and close, colored olive at the shoulders and yellowish orange on its back and extremities. Their throat and the ears are white and their mouths are black. The upper part of their head is hairy. This black-and-white face gives them the name "death's head monkey" in several Germanic languages (e.g., German Totenkopfaffen, Swedish dödskalleapor, Dutch doodshoofdaapjes) and Slovenian (smrtoglavka).

Squirrel monkeys grow to 25 to 35 cm, plus a 35 to 42 cm tail. Male squirrel monkeys weigh 750 to 1100 g. Females weigh 500 to 750 g.

Female squirrel monkeys have a pseudo-penis that they use to display dominance over smaller monkeys, in much the same way the male squirrel monkeys display their dominance.

Like most of their New World monkey relatives, squirrel monkeys are diurnal and arboreal. Unlike the other New World monkeys, their tail is not used for climbing, but as a kind of "balancing pole" and also as a tool. Their movements in the branches can be very rapid.

They live together in multi-male/multi-female groups with up to 500 members. These large groups can, however occasionally break into smaller troops. They have a number of vocal calls, including warning sounds to protect themselves from large falcons, which are a natural threat to them. Their small body size also makes them susceptible to predators such as snakes and felids. For marking territory, squirrel monkeys rub their tail and their skin with their own urine.

Squirrel monkeys are omnivores, eating primarily fruits and insects. Occasionally they also eat seeds, leaves, flowers, buds, nuts, eggs and small vertebrates.

The mating of the squirrel monkeys is subject to seasonal influences. Females give birth to young during the rainy season, after a 150- to 170-day gestation. The mothers exclusively care for the young. Saimiri oerstedti are weaned by 4 months of age, while S. boliviensis are not fully weaned until 18 months old. Female squirrel monkeys reach sexual maturity at age 3 years, while males take until age 5. They live to about 15 years old in the wild, and over 20 years in captivity. Menopause in females probably occurs in the mid-teens.[2]

The Common Squirrel Monkey S. sciureus is captured for the pet trade and for medical research[3] but it is not threatened. Two squirrel monkey species are threatened: S. oerstedti and S. vanzolinii are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.[4][5]



"Baker", an 'astronaut' squirrel monkey, rode into space as part of the United States space program, and returned safely.

Until 1984, all South American squirrel monkeys were generally considered part of a single widespread species, and many zoologists considered the Central American Squirrel Monkey to be a member of that single species as well.[1][6] The two main groups currently recognized can be separated by the white above the eyes; it being shaped as a Gothic ("pointed") Arch in the S. sciureus group, while it is shaped as a Roman ("rounded") Arch in the S. boliviensis group.[7]

  • Genus Saimiri
    • S. sciureus group
      • Central American Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri oerstedii
        • Black-crowned Central American Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri oerstedii oerstedii
        • Grey-crowned Central American Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus
      • Common Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri sciureus
        • Saimiri sciureus sciureus
        • Saimiri sciureus albigena
        • Humboldt's Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri sciureus cassiquiarensis
        • Ecuadorian Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri sciureus macrodon
      • Bare-eared Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri ustus
    • S. boliviensis group


The crown lineage of the extant squirrel monkeys appears to have diverged around 1.5 million years ago.[8]S. boliviensis appears to be the first diverging species in the group. S. oerstedii and S. s. sciureus, are sister species. S. s. macrodon is the sister species to the S. oerstedii / S. s. sciureus clade.

Color vision

Color vision in squirrel monkeys has been extensively studied as a stand-in for human ailments.[9] In humans, two genes for color vision are found on the X chromosome. Typically, one gene (OPN1LW) produces a pigment that is most sensitive to the 564 nm wavelength, while the other gene (OPN1MW) produces pigment most sensitive to 534 nm. In squirrel monkeys, there is only one gene on the X chromosome but it exists in three varieties: one is most sensitive to 538 nm, one to 551 nm, and one to 561 nm. Since males have only one X chromosome, they are dichromatic, although with different sensitivities. Females, on the other hand, have two X chromosomes, so some of them can have copies of two different alleles. The three alleles seem to be equally common, leading to one-third of females being dichromatic while two-thirds are trichromatic.[10] Recently, gene therapy has given the human OPN1LW gene to adult male squirrel monkeys, producing behavior consistent with trichromatic color vision.[9]



  1. ^ a b Groves, C. (2005). Wilson, D. E., & Reeder, D. M, eds. ed. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 138-139. OCLC 62265494. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3. 
  2. ^ Walker ML, Anderson DC, Herndon JG, Walker LC (2009). "Ovarian aging in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus)". Reproduction 138 (4): 793–799. doi:10.1530/REP-08-0449. PMID 19656956. 
  3. ^ Rhines, C. (2000). "Saimiri sciureus", Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 26, 2007
  4. ^ Boubli, J.-P. & Rylands, A. B. (2008). "Saimiri vanzolinii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/19839. Retrieved 17 May January 2010. 
  5. ^ Wong, G., Cuarón, A.D., Rodriguez-Luna, E. & de Grammont, P.C. (2008). "Saimiri oerstedii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/19836. Retrieved 17 May January 2010. 
  6. ^ Michael Kavanagh (1983). A Complete Guide to Monkeys, Apes and Other Primates. p. 84. ISBN 0 224 02168 0. 
  7. ^ Rowe, N. (1996). The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. Pogonia Press, Charlestown, Rhode Island. ISBN 0-9648825-0-7. 
  8. ^ Chiou KL, Pozzi L, Lynch Alfaro JW, Di Fiore A. (2011) Pleistocene diversification of living squirrel monkeys (Saimiri spp.) inferred from complete mitochondrial genome sequences. Mol Phylogenet Evol.
  9. ^ a b http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7265/full/nature08401.html
  10. ^ . PMC 304691. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=304691. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Squirrel monkey — Squirrel Squir rel (skw[ e]r r[e^]l or skw[i^]r ; 277), n. [OE. squirel, OF. esquirel, escurel, F. [ e]cureuil, LL. squirelus, squirolus, scuriolus, dim. of L. sciurus, Gr. si oyros; skia shade + o yra tail. Cf. {Shine}, v. i.] 1. (Zo[ o]l.) Any… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • squirrel monkey — n. any of a genus (Saimiri) of small, tropical, New World monkeys (family Cebidae) characterized by naked black skin around the nose and mouth, white fur around the eyes and ears, and a long tail that is not prehensile …   English World dictionary

  • squirrel monkey — either of two small, long tailed monkeys, Saimiri oerstedii of Central America and S. sciureus of South America, having a small white face with black muzzle and gold, brown, or greenish fur: S. oerstedii is endangered. [1765 75] * * * Any of… …   Universalium

  • squirrel monkey — voverinis saimiris statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas taksono rangas rūšis atitikmenys: lot. Saimiri sciureus angl. common squirrel monkey; squirrel monkey vok. Totenkopfäffchen rus. беличий саймири; обыкновенная беличья обезьяна pranc.… …   Žinduolių pavadinimų žodynas

  • squirrel monkey — Marmoset Mar mo*set (m[aum]r m[ o]*z[e^]t ; 277), n. [F. marmouset a grotesque figure, an ugly little boy, prob. fr. LL. marmoretum, fr. L. marmor marble. Perhaps confused with marmot. See {Marble}.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any one of numerous species of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • squirrel monkey — noun small long tailed monkey of Central American and South America with greenish fur and black muzzle • Syn: ↑Saimiri sciureus • Hypernyms: ↑New World monkey, ↑platyrrhine, ↑platyrrhinian …   Useful english dictionary

  • squirrel monkey — type of small monkey that lives in Central and South America …   English contemporary dictionary

  • squirrel monkey — noun a small South American monkey with a non prehensile tail, typically moving through trees by leaping. [Saimiri sciureus and other species.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • squirrel monkey — noun Date: 1773 any of several small soft haired South American monkeys (genus Saimiri, especially S. sciureus of the family Cebidae) that have a long tail not used for grasping and are colored chiefly yellowish gray with a white face and black… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • squirrel monkey — noun any of several small New World monkeys, of the genus Saimiri, that live in Central and South America …   Wiktionary