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Chapter 1 Capuchin Monkeys

In the forests of Costa Rica lives a little monkey named Lupé.  She is a white-faced capuchin monkey.  She has a pink face rimmed with white fur that covers her head and shoulders.  The rest of her fur is black, and she has a little black cap on the top of her head.  Lupé is a small monkey, about the size of a large house cat, but she has nimble fingers and sharp eyes to explore her world.

Tita Rest.jpg

Lupé's family has 27 members who live together in her troop.  There is her mother Carmen and her older brothers Max and Peter, and her younger sister TitaGranny Francis and Granny Bette also live with her.  Her aunts, Red and Teri and little Aunty Abi live with her.  She has other aunts in her troop and cousins.  She has lots of cousins!


White-faced monkeys live in female bonded (also called matrilineal or female philopatric fee-lo-pat-ric) troops, which means that females always live with their families.  Lupé’s mother, her aunts, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother were all born in Lupé’s troop. 


But when males grow up, they leave their troop.  All males have to find a new troop where they can live.  So Lupé will live with her sisters for the rest of her life, but her brothers, Peter and Max, will leave someday.


All of the adult males who live with Lupé and her family came from other troops.  All of them– Julio, Scarface, Hamilton, Angelo, and Bud came before she was born, so she doesn’t remember where they came from or when they came.  One of them is Lupé’s dad, it may even be Julio because he spends lots of time sitting with, and being groomed by, Lupé’s mother.  Julio even carried Lupé sometimes when she was very little.  All of the adult males protect her.  Lupé feels very safe knowing they are there.


Lupé lives on a farm and wildlife refuge called Curú Wildlife Refuge.  All the wild animals are protected.  Some of the farmland has pastures (grassy areas) where cattle live.  There are also areas where people grow mangos, papayas, citrus, and guanabana fruit.  The rest of the land is protected forest.  There will always be enough food, water, and space for her family to live.  There are many other troops of capuchin monkeys nearby and there are also howler monkeys.   Lupé often sees white-tailed deer, raccoons, coatis, peccaries, and agoutis.  There are many other kinds of animals too.


Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu)


Ctenosaur, Black spiny-tailed iguana  (Ctenosaura similis)


Raccoon (Procyon lotor)


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Lupé’s forest is big and it has many different kinds of plants.  Every day, Lupé and her family wake up and they eat fruit and insects.  Then, they start going in search of food and water and places to rest.  She spends time with her family learning where to go and what she can eat. The area they forage in is called a home range.  It is very large.


Lupé has to learn how to get her food.  She has to learn about the dangers in her forest.  Some of her cousins already know and they warn her.  Granny Francis is especially good at recognizing snakes.  Lupé has a lot to learn.


Lupé usually stays near her mother, but sometimes she likes to explore with the cousins.  If there is any danger, Julio or Scarface will chase her back.  They don’t want her to get hurt.

In this wildlife refuge there is a small plantain plantation, a section of land where only plantains grow,  where Lupé’s troop sleeps every night.  Plantains are related to bananas, but they harder, so people usually cook to soften them before eating them.  The people who own the reserve planted the plantains for pigs they raised long ago.  When the people stopped raising pigs, they gave the plantain plantations to the monkeys.  The plantains are a big meal and tasty, so Lupé smashes them and rolls them on tree branches to soften them enough to eat.   


It is very strange for Lupé's family to eat plantains.  Most monkeys never eat bananas or plantains because they do not grow in the forests of Costa Rica.  They do not naturally grow in the Americas.  Bananas and plantains come from South East Asia.  But people brought bananas and plantains to Costa Rica many years ago and the monkeys discovered they like to eat them. 


More than the plantains, Lupé likes to eat the sweet nectar in the plantain flowers.  Each baby plantain has a little cup with a little drop of nectar that tastes like a very sweet banana.  Lupé lifts up the flower petal and pulls off the baby plantain to lick the nectar.  Sometimes there are tiny, stingless bees on the flower.  Lupé can eat them too!


The plantains have big, long leaves that reach up to the sky.  As they age, the leaves begin to droop and eventually die back, hanging from the tree stock.  Lots of insects hide in the dead leaves.  Hanging by her prehensile tail, a tail that grasps and can hold onto things, Lupé lifts up the huge leaves bit-by-bit and carefully opens the curled edges to find small insects.  Sometimes she gets a spider, sometimes a cricket.  One time there was a small bat clinging to a dead leaf who quickly flew off.  Lupé was so surprised she made a small alarm bark: “Huh!”


Lupé also knows she can “fish” for spiders.  Spiders often spin their webs between the plantain trees.  First they attach long strands of silk to one plantain tree and then connect it to another plantain tree.  Then, they weave their web, tacking small sections of silk in a large, expanding circle.  The spiders can catch insects flying around in the plantains.  When Lupé goes fishing for spiders she gently loosens one of the long silk strands from a plantain tree.  Then slowly, pulling up the web bit-by-bit, she “reels” in the spider closer and closer.  When it gets close enough, she can pop it into her mouth.


There is also water inside the plantains.  If Lupé bites into the leaf base or breaks it open, she can suck water out.  The plantains are such a good place to find food and water!  One of the things she likes to do is jump onto a leaf really hard.  It makes a loud crashing sound.  Sometimes she can scare one of her cousins.


Every morning, her family has breakfast in the plantains and then they travel for about an hour in search of food.  Then, they find a shady spot to rest, and feed and socialize.  And then they travel some more.  They do this all day long until late afternoon when they return to the plantain plantation. 


After a busy day full of eating and playing she will lay on a tree branch and take a nap.  Her mother will groom her, and her brothers will play nearby. It feels so good to have her fur groomed of dirt and little pieces of plants. Then, she will find a comfortable tree branch and she will settle down and go to sleep.



Baker, Mary E. personal observations 1991-2018

1998. Fur Rubbing as Evidence for Medicinal Plant Use by Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus) Ecological, Social, and Cognitive Aspects of The Behavior. Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of California, Riverside.

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