Time to make the acquaintance of somebody whose hands are incredibly coordinated and who has excellent eyesight. He also boasts a brain larger than most others of his kind. Sounds like an e-sports champion! Except upon closer inspection, his legs are peculiar: thighs are smaller than his calves. Besides, he’s happily munching on his favorite snacks, fat juicy grasshoppers.
It’s a Squirrel Monkey
By now you’ve probably figured out you’ll need to go to the Reid Park Zoo, where you can meet three of these winsome little creatures. You’ll know them by the yellow fur on their legs, hands that look like teeny human hands, bright eyes, and seemingly boundless athleticism and energy. Meet the irrepressible Squirrel Monkeys!
Squirrel Monkeys live in forests and South America, and they’re really sociable, sometimes living in groups of up to 500. You can imagine how communication could be important in such huge groups, and they’re very vocally talented, with around 30 unique calls. They’re arboreal, and when full grown, they only weigh between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds (males are larger). Their tails (16 inches long) are longer than their bodies, which are just about 12.5 inches long.
Squirrel monkeys are omnivores . They eat plants, including fruit, leaves, and flowers, and “meat” such as insects, sometimes eggs, and small vertebrates. They live in such huge groups they have to be quick and agile about finding and capturing food, so the keepers at the Reid Park Zoo are constantly coming up with new places and “puzzle feeders” to keep them busy and well fed. Also, while their favorite food in the wild is grasshoppers, at the Reid Park Zoo, their most adored treats are grape marmalade and worms!
They don’t Make Good Pets
First of all, it’s illegal – but unfortunately, the Squirrel Monkeys are so cute that one of the biggest threats to them is the illegal pet trade. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case if more people knew about a habit Squirrel Monkeys have, poetically called “urine washing.” Sorry – it’s just what it sounds like. They urinate on their hands and then energetically distribute it over their shoulders, arms, legs, and feet. This sort of thing is more common than you think in the animal world, and for these monkeys it’s a form of communication, helping to leave trails and establish dominance.
An Amazing Habitat
These intelligent creatures seem to really enjoy their “Temple of Tiny Monkeys.” It was one of the first new construction projects in the Reid Park Zoo’s expansion plans, and it was carefully designed to mimic the Squirrel Monkeys’ natural habitat, including both indoor and outdoor spaces for them, connected by a tunnel. They can leap, climb, take tiny naps (maybe 15 seconds?) while balancing on branches, and if the time is right, find a tasty insect, capture it, and gobble it up immediately.
More fun in the future
Squirrel Monkeys in the wild are beginning to feel the alarming effects of deforestation in addition to the illegal pet trade. The troop of Squirrel Monkeys at the Reid Park Zoo are an important part of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), and they have a breeding recommendation. The male, Parker, is still a little too young for all that, but we can’t wait until Tucson welcomes some even tinier tiny monkeys!