Atelidae – Atelids

Includes the howler, spider, woolly, and woolly spider monkeys – the largest of the New World monkeys

This family represents a fascinating and diverse group of New World monkeys, encompassing some of the most iconic and ecologically significant species found in the Americas, including muriquis, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and woolly monkeys. These primates are distinguished by several key characteristics that reflect their adaptations to life in the dense rainforests of Central and South America.

One of the most notable features of Atelidae monkeys is their prehensile tails, which are incredibly strong and versatile and function as an additional limb. This remarkable adaptation allows them to navigate the complex canopy with agility and precision, facilitating their arboreal lifestyle. The tails are often bare on the underside near the tip, enhancing their grip on branches and making them one of the few primate groups to have truly adapted to life almost exclusively in the trees.

Howler monkeys, a member of this family, are renowned for their vocal abilities. They possess enlarged hyoid bones that act as resonance chambers, enabling them to produce the loudest calls of any land animal. These powerful vocalizations serve multiple purposes, including territorial defense, group communication, and potentially deterring predators.

Atelidae monkeys typically inhabit the rainforests of Latin America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. These environments provide the dense canopy cover and abundant food sources that Atelidae monkeys rely on. However, their reliance on these habitats also makes them particularly vulnerable to deforestation and habitat fragmentation, leading to declining populations across the family.

The social structures of Atelidae monkeys are complex and varied. Some species live in large, cohesive groups, while others may form smaller, more loosely organized units. Their high brain-to-body size ratio is indicative of their social complexity, as well as their ability to solve problems and use tools in some contexts.