Updated: Oct 29, 2021
There are four species of monkey in Costa Rica, but only two are common in the Southern Zone, and both of these are seen regularly at the Finca Bellavista Community. The two larger species, Mantled Howler and Central American Spider Monkey are found on the Osa Peninsula. One of the best places to see all four species is Sirena Station in Corcovado National Park.
At Finca Bellavista we see Red-backed Squirrel Monkeys quite often. They particularly like secondary forest, so they tend to be found on the ridge and at forest edge. The White-faced Capuchin is common in both mature and secondary forest and it is the subject of this blog. Capuchins are the smartest monkeys in the New World. They can recognize plants that are effective antiseptics, fungicides or insect repellents. They collect these plants and rub them into their fur. They also collect stink bugs and carpenter ants, anointing themselves with the chemical compounds these insects use for defense.
They have even been known to steal antibacterial wipes from tourists!
Capuchins have prehensile tails that function as a fifth limb. On a boat trip from Sierpe to Sirena, we stopped in the Térraba River estuary to watch a group of capuchins. They were descending to low branches and dipping their tails into the water, then curling their tail up to suck water off. These waterways are full of Spectacled Caiman and American Crocodiles, both of which pose a danger to the capuchins. By drinking from the tail they are less likely to lose their lives, although it is not rare to see a tailless capuchin! In very dry regions such as Lomas Barbudal, in the Pacific Northwest, capuchins have learned to use this method of drinking to obtain water from deep tree holes, where their hands simply would not reach.
I seldom see White-faced Capuchins at my treehouse, El Fenix, but they are often seen by my guests. Once on a forest walk I saw a group of capuchins that had encountered a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. The sleepy sloth was barely disturbed as the monkeys reached out to touch it, but soon the monkeys backed off, wiping themselves in apparent disgust. These sloths have moths that live in their fur, and the moths had flown onto the monkeys, which they did not enjoy! So they left the sloth in peace.
Although it is always great to see these intelligent monkeys, it is important not to feed them, as they learn how to open doors and even refrigerators quite quickly!
by Fiona A. Reid