Explore More About Capuchin Monkeys
Chapter 2: Growing Up
When Lupé was a baby, she clung to her mother’s back as Carmen traveled around in the forest. It was Lupé’s job to hang onto her mother as tightly as she could because Carmen had to find enough food each day. Carmen had to jump from tree to tree, climb up vines, down logs, and dart across palm branches. Carmen would run across the river and, like a tightrope walker, cross the living fences (living trees connected with barbed wire). The whole time, Lupé had to hang on with her hands and feet, trying to stay out of her mother’s way. When Carmen rested, Lupé could move to her stomach so she could nurse. Lupé could also explore nearby vegetation or play with her older brothers. But when it was time to go, Lupé would scramble onto Carmen’s back and cling to her fur.
Lupé could see everything her mother did, and she learned about the kinds of food her mother ate. She could see the shapes of the plants and their colors. When her mother was eating, Lupé would climb off her mother’s back and gently press her nose to her Carmen's mouth. Inhaling deeply, Lupé could smell the kinds of things her mother ate. If her mother dropped anything, Lupé was allowed to pick it up to eat it. This way she learned how different foods looked and smelled and tasted.
Lupé is bigger now, almost three years old. She has a new baby sister named Tita. When Tita was born, her skin and fur were completely black. A baby's fur and skin color is different from that of adults. This is called a natal coat. As babies grow up, their fur becomes more and more like adults. Lupé watched Tita's lose her natal coat. By the end of the first month, her face began to get pale and after a couple months it had become pink like Lupé's face.
Tita’s fur also changed color. All around her face, over her head, down her neck and over her shoulders her fur turned from black to creamy white. Everything from her head to her shoulders was white, except for her sister’s little black fur cap on the top of her head.
Lupé thought Tita looked very funny and very cute: Tita had long skinny arms and legs and she was very wobbly. Just like all babies, Tita’s head was very big and her eyes seemed very big. She was clumsy, but she was growing fast and getting stronger every day. Lupé knew Tita would soon be running and playing with the other kids. Monkey babies grow up very quickly.
Tita stayed on Carmen's back most of the time, but when her mother was resting Tita would scramble down and begin exploring. Lupé would gather her up and practice taking care of her. Even though Lupé was still very young, she liked
play-mothering. Whenever she did it, she would get a tingling feeling all over her body and she would get piloerected: her hair would stand on end.
Lupé would carefully clean Tita’s fur. She would very carefully and gently untangle the fur and using her nimble fingers she would pull off mud and tiny pieces of plant debris. Sometimes there was a tiny insect that she would eat. If Tita had any little cuts or scrapes, Lupé would gently clean them with her tongue.
Tita seemed to like it, but she wasn’t very patient. Tita liked to pull away and go exploring. She would bolt out of Lupé’s arms and clamber away. Lupé would follow her very closely. Lupé had to keep an eye on her and make sure she didn’t get hurt.
Lupé thought it would be easier just to hold Tita, so she hung onto Tita very tightly. Tita didn’t like it, so she struggled to get away. Tita tried to wriggle down out of Lupé’s arms, so Lupé held on even tighter.
Tita squealed her discomfort.
Immediately Granny Bette and Carmen looked over at Lupé and Tita. Granny Bette came over and sat down, right next to Tita and Lupé. “You need to be more gentle, Lupé,” Granny Bette said. “Tita is just a little girl and we need to take good care of her.”
Lupé knew if she didn’t do a good job Granny Bette might take Tita back to her mother. Lupé didn’t want that, so she let Tita play, but stayed very close and groomed her. After a while, Lupé scooped Tita up and decided to carry her to a bigger tree branch.
Tita was almost as big as Lupé, so it was hard, but Lupé pulled Tita tightly to her stomach and stretched her arms and legs as long as she could so she could walk and jump. She scrambled down one branch, jumped to another and then finally she jumped onto the bigger branch.
She let Tita explore a little, but mostly Lupé just wanted to hold Tita and groom her. Tita was too busy to be held. She wanted to play with twigs. She wanted to try to catch a bug. She wanted to practice jumping and swinging.
Lupé knew she had to let Tita do these things. An important job of monkey children is information gathering. Monkey moms and dads do not teach their children, so monkey children must explore their worlds and gather as much information as they can.
Tita was learning many skills she would need when she was older. It was just play now, but soon Tita would have to catch her own food, she would need to know how break her own sticks to find little bugs or strip off the bark to eat the nutritious cambium underneath. Soon Tita would have to know how to move rapidly through the trees to get food and to avoid danger. Baby monkeys have so many things they must learn!
Tita discovered a little tree bowl filled with water to play in. Sometimes, between a large branch and a tree trunk, a bowl would form. When it rained, the bowl would fill up, creating a pool. Some were only big enough to insert a hand. But other pools were big enough to hold 3 or 4 monkeys.
Tita splashed the water with her hands and then she watched the water dripping off her hands. She tried to make bigger and bigger splashes. Both Tita and Lupé were getting wet.
Lupé dipped one arm into the bowl and got her arm soaking wet. She had learned that fur makes a really good sponge to soak up water. Then, Lupé lifted her arm out of the tree bowl and she sucked the water off her arm.
Tita watched, fascinated. Her big sister seemed to know so many fun things to do. Tita hit the water several times more making the water splash. Then she noticed that her arms were wet, just like Lupé’s had been. Tita tried sucking the water off her arms. It was so refreshing! Tita dipped her arm down into the water and then lifted it out. Her arm was soaking wet. She sucked more water off her arm. Tita was learning about where to find water up high in the trees.
Lupé saw a small movement out of the corner of her eye: it was a cricket skittering into a rolled up dead leaf. Lupé snatched the leaf and carefully opened it up to get the cricket. It was too big to eat in one bite. Lupé bit into it and began munching.
Tita cautiously moved her face close to Lupé’s. She sniffed Lupé’s mouth. Then she gently and slowly reached out and touched Lupé’s hand. Tita bent down and sniffed the cricket. It smelled pretty good. Lupé took another bite. Tita cautiously tried to take the cricket, but Lupé didn’t let her have it. Lupé thought it was OK if Tita touched and smelled it, but the cricket was much too good to share. Lupé ate the rest of the cricket except for the legs. The legs weren’t very tasty, and they were too spiny to eat.
Tita picked up one of the legs and tasted it. It was hard and dry. The lower leg had prickles that stuck her fingers. It was annoying, but it didn’t really hurt. Tita tried a few more bites and then decided cricket legs are not very good to eat. She decided she would have to try to find one and catch it so she could taste the fleshy abdomen.
Tita and Lupé began looking behind leaves and under bark for more insects. Tita wasn’t very fast, so most of the insects got away before she could catch them. But Lupé found many little insects to eat.
Lupé watched Tita very carefully. If it seemed like she was going on branches that were too skinny, she would gently pull her back to bigger branches. If Tita moved too far from the group, Lupé scooped her up and carried her back. Tita didn’t like that, so she screamed out her annoyance.
Carmen came over and took Tita away from Lupé. Tita wiggled out of Carmen’s grasp and clambered into her back. Carmen started looking for food.
Lupé felt really sad and ashamed. A big girl like her should be able to take better care of a baby. Lupé knew one day she would have her own children to raise. Little girl monkeys have to play at mothering to learn everything they will need to know to take good care of them. Both Tita and Lupé had a lot to learn!
Lupé sat on the branch feeling dejected. Max came dashing through the tree and jumped over Lupé’s head. Peter followed and poked Lupé gently as he ran by. Lupé was glad. She liked taking care of her baby sister, but she also liked playing with the other kids. So off she ran to join Max and Peter in the fun.
Baker, Mary E. personal observations 1991-2018
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