Sapajus cay

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

The Azara’s capuchin, also known as the hooded capuchin or yellow bearded capuchin, is found in eastern Paraguay, southeastern Bolivia, northern Argentina, and the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil. Their habitat consists of humid, subtropical, semi-deciduous gallery forests (those formed along riverbanks that flow into otherwise open areas, such as deserts or savannas), as well as forests of the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a region within Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, that includes the world’s largest tropical wetland area, and the world’s largest flooded grasslands! Think of it as a flooded savanna.

The Azara’s capuchin has a high level of behavioral and ecological flexibility, allowing them to live in a wide range of habitats, including bushlands and savannas.


All capuchin monkeys were once considered to be members of one genus, the gracile (slenderly-built) capuchins (genus Cebus). The Azara’s capuchin had been described as a sub-species of the black-striped capuchin (Cebus libidinosus). However, in 2012, capuchins were subdivided into two genera: the robust (or tufted) capuchins (genus Sapajus), and the gracile capuchins. The Azara’s capuchins are now proud members of the robust capuchin monkeys genus.

Azara's capuchin range, IUCN 2023

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

Male and female Azara’s capuchins are similarly sized at 14.6 inches (37 cm), which does not include their 17-inch (43 cm) long tail. However, with regard to weight, they are sexually dimorphic, meaning that there are noticeable physical differences between genders. Males weigh between 2.9-10.6 pounds (1.3-4.8 kg), while females weigh between 3.1-7.5 pounds (1.4-3.4 kg).

Their lifespan in the wild is on average 30 years.


The Azara’s capuchin’s medium-length fur coat presents a range of brown colors throughout the body, with darker black fur on the limbs, tail, and top of the head. While not as extreme as those of the superhero Wolverine, upon reaching sexual maturity, these monkeys sport impressive dark “sideburns” in front of their ears. Tufts on the top of their head develop upon reaching adulthood.

Azara’s capuchins, like all robust capuchin monkeys, have strong jaws that help in accessing hard foodstuffs, such as nuts and unripe fruit. Their expressive faces are pale brown, accented with lovely copper-brown eyes. As members of the tufted capuchin group, they have thick, muscular, prehensile tails, which may be as long as half of their body length!


The Azara’s capuchin is an opportunistic omnivore with an extensive, varied diet, that has a unique, gender-based twist! Both males and females primarily eat fruit, followed by seeds and finally, plant parts (including nectar) and invertebrates such as insects. They’re quite intelligent, especially when it comes to food: individuals have been documented breaking nuts and hard-shelled fruits by using rocks or hitting them repeatedly against trees, and using sticks to dig and search for protein-rich insects. In one study, it was found that individuals can figure out that if one fruit tree is producing fruit, then all of the others of the same species must be producing fruit as well! (Good work!)

Now for the twist: Males tend to eat larger objects than females! Males have been documented eating small vertebrates such as birds, lizards, frogs, and rodents, while females tend to stick to browsing in the trees for plant material, fruit, and insects. This difference in diet also results in differences in behavior between the two genders (more on this in the next section!)

In areas where human crops can be safely harvested, the Azara’s capuchins supplement their diet with corn, pine seeds, and very occasionally, soybeans. The open fields where plantations are established are significantly different from the naturally protective forested habitat where the capuchins live. As a result, they are only rarely visited due to the potential risk involved.

Behavior and Lifestyle

The Azara’s capuchin is diurnal (most active during daylight hours), and primarily arboreal, preferring to spend most of their time in the trees. The majority of the day is spent traveling around their territory foraging for food, with the alpha male of the group in the lead. When foraging has concluded for the day, the group retreats to their sleeping trees for the night. Specifically, according to one study, a group of Azara’s capuchins dedicated 41.3% of their time to traveling, 25.5% to resting, 14.3% to foraging, 13.7% to feeding, and 5.1% to social activities. The study concluded that the Azara’s capuchin’s behavioral activities may be influenced by the quality of their habitat, opportunistic discoveries, and flexibility of their diet.

Back to the behavioral differences that result from the differences in dietary habits between the genders hinted at in the previous section: male Azara’s capuchins have been observed spending more time on or near the ground, resting and digesting their heartier meals while surveying the area. Females, by comparison, spend significantly more time foraging and eating within the tree canopy and require less rest time (thanks to their lighter diets). 

The Azara’s capuchins use their long prehensile tails to wrap around tree branches to assist with their otherwise quadruped (on all fours) movements through the trees. They have the additional ability to walk upright to better carry their food.

In addition to humans who hunt them for bushmeat, predators of the Azara’s capuchin include jaguars and birds of prey such as the Harpy eagle. While studies on the Azara’s capuchin are rare, it has been hypothesized that, like other capuchin monkeys, they utilize an array of defense techniques to avoid predation. These may include emitting an alarm call which may vary depending upon the type of predator, remaining vigilant while foraging by sticking close to one another as a group, spending most of their time in the trees to avoid ground-based predators, using their natural agility in the trees to beat a hasty retreat, using camouflage to blend in with their tree-based habitat, and selecting habitats that offer better protection from predators (such as dense forests, with plenty of cover and escape routes). 

Azara’s capuchins do not build sleeping nests. Rather, they use designated trees within their territory for sleep among the branches.

Fun Facts

Research has shown that Azara’s capuchins have the ability to learn and retain information for long time periods. These monkeys sure are adaptable and SMART!

Azara’s capuchins are hosts to an intestinal parasite, Pachysentis rugosus. Luckily, there have been no documented cases of human infection in English-language medical literature.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics

The home range of a group of Azara’s capuchins extends between 371-618 acres (150-250 ha), and the group may travel over 0.62 miles (1,000 m) per day in search of food. Groups rarely cross the boundaries of their home territory, only doing so under extreme conditions (such as disruptions in food supply), or when males leave their natal group to start a group of their own or join with another group. Territorial boundaries are often marked with urine and feces.

Group size can vary greatly. Some can number less than 12 individuals, while other groups have been recorded to have up to 44 individuals! Talk about an extended family! Groups consist of related females and their offspring, subordinate males, and a larger, more ferocious dominant male. Male offspring leave their birth group upon reaching sexual maturity.

A distinct social hierarchy has been observed to occur when the Azara’s capuchin forages for food. The group is led by females with their offspring. Next in line is the dominant male, followed by juveniles. Individuals not entirely tolerated by the group are found on the periphery of the foraging ensemble. This provides the more tolerated individuals with somewhat lesser risk of predation, while providing the “outsiders” with improved access to food than they would have were they foraging on their own.

Although Azara’s capuchins have been known to prey upon coati nestlings under certain ecological conditions, studies have documented more tolerant behavior as well. While coatis typically demonstrate silent or “fearful” avoidance of Azara’s capuchins, the two species have also been observed feeding from the same trees without apparent aggressive interaction.

Azara’s capuchins have been observed as well sharing feeding sites with black-and-gold howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) in Paraguay. They have also been seen to forage alongside collard peccaries in Brazil. As the capuchins drop fruit and seeds to the ground while feeding, opportunistic peccaries follow the group, gratefully collecting and eating the monkey leftovers.


As is true of other species of capuchin monkeys, the Azara’s capuchin possesses a large communication repertoire, including body movements, touching, facial expressions, and vocalizations.

The Azara’s capuchin utilizes various calls to communicate different meanings. Squeals, whistles, or peeps are used to keep in touch with one another while foraging, and alarm calls are used if a predator is spotted.

As is the case with all capuchins, grooming plays a large part in maintaining strong social bonds among the group. Unless an individual is ill, all members groom one another as a means of bonding and reaffirming their status within the group.

Along with marking their territory, individuals also use urine during the breeding season to announce sexual maturity and distinguish between individuals (as their urine contains pheromones, which provide information as to gender, age, and position in the hierarchy).

Facial expressions include: a relaxed open mouth used to signify play, silent bared teeth used to signify fear or submission, lip-smacking to demonstrate reassurance (or friendly relations toward babies), and an open mouth and/or lifting of the scalp to indicate a threat display.

Over time, Azara’s capuchin’s complex social behaviors have evolved into established rituals. One example is eye poking of another group member as a means of determining trust. Tolerance of being poked in the eye (!) apparently communicates that you are a friend and ally. 

Reproduction and Family

Breeding is a year-round activity for the Azara’s capuchin. They are polygynous (with the dominant male mating with every adult female in the group).

Females reach sexual maturity at four to five years of age, while males reach sexual maturity at around eight years of age. Females give birth about every two years. 

Females do not show any sexual swelling when in estrus (receptivity for reproduction). Rather, in order to attract the dominant male into breeding, they will follow him, posture submissively, touch him, as well as grimace and vocalize with a whistle or whine. At first, he may appear indifferent to the females’ advances, but he will mate once a day with each individual female.

After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 160-180 days, a single infant is born. The baby clings to mom’s back until six months of age, and is weaned at one year of age. Juveniles are generally very friendly, and spend much time grooming and playing with one another.

Ecological Role

As frugivores (fruit-eaters), Azara’s capuchins aid in the regeneration of their forest habitats by dispersing seeds through their feces as they move around the habitat. They also play a role in pollination. Like bees and butterflies, they collect pollen from flowers when drinking nectar. They then deposit it on each flower they visit, thereby pollinating the plants.

Conservation Status and Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Azara’s capuchin as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2022), appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Threats to the Azara’s capuchin’s include hunting for the bushmeat and pet trades, and the degradation and conversion of their habitats to agricultural land and human settlement. 

In Paraguay, habitat loss is a major threat, mainly driven by the extensive and rapid advance of soybean plantations. Despite the “Zero-Deforestation Law” enacted in 2004, the remaining forestland continues to be threatened by ongoing expansion of industrial agriculture, illegal settlement, and the increasing frequency and intensity of bushfires. Hunting by indigenous and rural people is also a threat, but the extent to which this is impacting the Azara’s capuchin population in Paraguay today remains unclear.

In Brazil, the main threats include: agriculture, deforestation, fire, habitat isolation and reduction, hunting and live capture for the pet trade, increasing road and energy infrastructure, livestock keeping, pollution, rural settlements, urban sprawl, and vulnerability to epidemics.

Conservation Efforts

The Azara’s capuchin is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments whose goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Azara’s capuchins are found in several protected areas throughout their range, including:

• Argentina: El Rey National Park, Calilegua National Park, Baritú National Park

• Bolivia: Kaa-lya National Park

• Brazil: Pantanal Matogrossense National Park, Sierra da Bodoquena National Park, Rio Negro State Park, Segredo Stream State Park, SESC Pantanal Private Reserve, Fazenda Boqueirão Private Reserve, Fazenda Floresta Negra  Private Reserve 

• Paraguay: Bosque Mbaracayu Biosphere Reserve, Caaguazu National Park, Cerro Cora National Park, Ybicui National Park

Many of these protected areas, however, are being degraded by forest fires, illegal logging, and illegal settlements.  

Conservation actions needed include: 

• Proper site/area management 

• Land/water management practices

• Further research into the Azara’s capuchin’s population size, distribution, trends, life history, and ecology

• Additional monitoring of their population trends

Hopefully, through such a combination of actions and practices, the Azara’s capuchin can be saved from the threat of endangerment and extinction. 


Written by Sienna Weinstein, April 2024