Capuchin monkeys
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Capuchins (Genus Cebus) are robustly built monkeys named for the distinctive caps on their crowns that appear in various colours and shapes in different species. They are very widely distributed in Central and South America, ranging from Honduras to the north of Argentina and from Peru to the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Such a wide distribution is possible because capuchins can thrive in a variety of habitats. They spend most of their time in trees. However, in response to local conditions, they may also spend time on the ground feeding, drinking, playing or moving across open ground between patches of forest.

Social structure

Capuchins live in groups ranging from around 10 to more than 40 individuals that contain one or more adult males, several adult females and immatures. In terms of their social system, different capuchins species fall along a continuum from uni-male to multi-male. That means we can find one or more adult males which are socially and reproductively active in each group. Although group members can be assigned to different dominance classes, social relations are characterized by a high degree of tolerance among individuals, especially towards infants and young juveniles. Moreover, infant capuchins are often cared for by alloparents and even suckled by allomothers. Capuchins show many of the characteristics of female-bonded primate species: maturing males often transfer groups, whereas females almost stay in their natal group. Affiliative female-female and female-male relationships are prominent than relationships among males.


Capuchins are omnivores. They eat mostly fruits but include varying portions of other vegetable invertebrates (e.g., molluscs, insects, worms) and vertebrates (e.g., birds and their eggs, small mammals, lizards, snakes) in their diet. Many other South American monkeys have the same diet, but what distinguishes capuchins is their destructive manner of foraging. Capuchins are renowned as extractive foragers, meaning that they exploit hidden and encased foods. Their foraging behaviour is distinctive for its inclusion of a large variety of strenuous actions (e.g., dig, rip, bite, bang, grab, break) as well as dexterous and precise ones (e.g., pull or pick with precision grip, scoop, open by peeling). One particular form of strenuous foraging activity typifies wild capuchins: breaking open hard-shelled fruits, nuts, and invertebrates.

Life history, body and cognition

With respect to other South American monkeys, capuchins live a very long time (up to 53 years in captivity) and have a long period of maternal care and immaturity. A large ratio of brain size to body size also distinguishes capuchins from other monkey species. Because of these unusual life history and anatomical features, capuchins have been popular subjects for research in the laboratory as well as in the field.

Capuchins are comparable to other monkey species  in their achievements in tasks commonly used to assess memorial, attentional and conceptual abilities. However, their engagement with objects is unique. Captive capuchins of all ages devote considerable attention, time and energy to manipulating objects; moreover, they frequently combine objects and surfaces in actions (e.g., bang objects on surfaces and poke objects into surfaces), leading to fortuitous spontaneous discoveries and innovations. Some wild population of capuchin monkeys routinely use stone hammers and stone anvils to crack palm nuts (to know more about this, see


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1997, Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino. Produzione Paneikon srl. Organizzazione Grazia Barberini. Riprese Massimo D’Adamo. Fotografia Giancarlo Pancaldi. Testi E.Visalberghi (Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione del CNR, Roma). Voce Aurora Cancian. Musiche Andrea Guerra. Montaggio Loriana Lucarini. Post produzione DT Audiovisivi.
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Unit of Cognitive Primatology - tutte le immagini del sito sono protette da copyright 
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