Cebus capucinus

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Colombian white-throated capuchins, also known as white-throated capuchins, white-faced capuchins, white-fronted capuchins, and white-headed capuchins, are natives to eastern Panama (east of the Panama Canal watershed), the Pacific coast of Colombia (south of the Panamanian border and west of the Andes and confined to the west bank of the upper Río Cauca), and northwestern Ecuador. They can be found in various Panamanian national parks and reserves, including Chagres National Park (Panama Province), Portobelo National Park (Colon Province), Comarca San Blas Indigenous Reserve, Chucantí Natural Reserve, and Darien National Park. 

Being very adaptable animals, white-throated capuchins can live in many different types of habitats. In Panama, white-throated capuchins live within the mangroves and second growth of dry, deciduous forests that get less than .07 inches (1.75 mm) of rainfall a year. Their Colombian habitats are primary and advanced secondary forest remains, in areas with substantial palm populations. In Ecuador, their habitats are humid tropical and subtropical forests that range from sea level to 5,900 feet (1,798 meters) above sea level.


Until recently—around the turn of the 21st century—the Colombian white-throated capuchin was considered to be a member of the same species as the Panamanian white-throated capuchin within the subspecies of Cebus capucinus imitator; some primatologists still believe both of these capuchins are the same species. The two subspecies of the Colombian white-throated capuchin are the nominate Colombian white-throated capuchin, C. c. capucinus , and the Gorgona white-fronted capuchin, C. c. curtus.

White-throated capuchin geographic range, IUCN 2020

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

White-throated capuchins can reach sizes of up to 8.6 pounds (3.9 kg), with males typically around 30% larger their females; their weight is the most notable sexual dimorphism within the species. Their head and body ranges from 13.2 to 17.8 in (33.5–45.3 cm), classifying them as medium-sized monkeys. Their prehensile tails, which help with postural support, can grow to be even longer than their bodies and are used to grab and carry objects. In general, these capuchins live around 30 years in the wild and 45–55 years in captivity. 


As referenced in their name, Colombian white-throated capuchins can be recognized by the pale yellow or white fur on their chest, shoulders, neck, and the perimeter of their face; the center of their faces is mostly hairless and showcases their pink skin. They have a black circle of fur at the top of their heads, somewhat resembling a beanie, that sometimes curves down to a little point in the front. The rest of their bodies are coated in black fur, spanning the length of their arms, bodies, and tails. These monkeys are very expressive and use their facial expressions to communicate with each other (which we’ll get more into later!).


Capuchins get a majority of their calories from fruit—around 70% ranging from nearly 100 different types—and especially love figs and mangoes. When they eat the fruits, they only consume the juice and pulp, and discard the seed and fibers, making them a key distributor of seeds in their habitats. They also eat other plant matter like grass, legumes, leaves, and several palm tree species. 

Omnivores, capuchins also eat various insects and animals including hexapods, snails, eggs, lizards, crabs, birds, squirrels, magpies, parrots, tree rats, and baby coatis. 

Behavior and Lifestyle

Colombian white-faced capuchins are diurnal primates, leading an active lifestyle during daylight hours and sleeping at night. They live in social units of 10 to 20 individuals, with females staying within their natal groups while young males disperse around the age of four to join new groups.

These capuchins display highly sociable behavior, engaging in extensive social play, especially among juveniles, who spend much of their time playing and wrestling. They learn essential skills through observation of adults. The dominant males secure their position through alliances and age, engaging in networking to maintain their status within the group. Females form closely knit cliques reinforced by grooming and playing, with maternal siblings forming the closest bonds. These monkeys communicate extensively through vocalizations and non-verbal cues, with a rich repertoire of calls and behaviors conveying specific meanings.

Primarily arboreal, they spend most of their time in trees, though they also forage on the ground. They travel quadrupedally, using their prehensile tails to hang from branches while foraging. Their foraging techniques involve searching through leaf debris, stripping bark from trees, using tools like sticks and stones to access food sources, and even fashioning tools to crack open nuts. They also display a remarkable understanding of herbal medicine, rubbing certain plant parts into their fur, possibly as a form of self-care against parasites or for inflammatory relief. This practice is referred to as “self-anointing.”

Tree boas and lanceheads (a highly venomous pit viper) are among the primary predators of white-faced capuchins, alongside caimans, jaguars, ocelots, and harpy eagles. When they detect a predator, the monkeys emit warning calls to alert others within their closely bonded social units. When a group faces danger, they may choose to either escape or unite to confront and overwhelm the predator through mobbing behavior.

Fun Facts

Capuchins will urinate on their feet to leave a scent trail for other capuchins to follow; the scent of urine can also be used to distribute various information.

The name “capuchin” comes from the name of the hooded robes that Capuchin friars wear, which would hang in a “cowl neck fashion” on their shoulders.

These monkeys prefer their fruit to be as ripe as possible, and will smell and poke the fruit to test its ripeness.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics

Colombian white-faced capuchins thrive in tightly knit social groups averaging 10 to 20 individuals, with a composition typically featuring multiple males and females. The troop dynamics are led by a dominant alpha male who gains priority access to the best resources within the group. Females significantly outnumber males within these groups, contributing to about three-quarters of the troop. The cohesive unit comprises related females, offspring, and occasional newcomer males. Young males usually depart from their natal group around the age of four years, either alone or accompanied by related males from their birth group, forming a coalition for safety against potential predators and aggressive encounters with other male capuchins from different troops.

Encounters between capuchin groups, whether within overlapping home ranges or during travel, tend to be confrontational and often hostile. These confrontations, primarily driven by intense competition among males, are less about territorial defense and more about asserting dominance and protecting troop members, particularly infants, from harm. Dominant males, the primary aggressors in intergroup conflicts, fiercely defend their troop’s infants and have been observed resorting to lethal actions against their opponents.

White-faced capuchins engage in a variety of social bonding activities within their groups. Grooming is more prevalent among females, while males commonly seek body contact by resting against one another. They exhibit unique behaviors such as “hand sniffing” and mutual sucking on fingers or tails, which serve as social bonding activities lasting for extended periods. Social play, especially among juveniles involving wrestling, plays a crucial role in fostering social bonds and teaching essential behaviors.

Their remarkable foraging skills make them popular foraging companions among other monkey species, like Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, who often accompany them in search of food. Mutual grooming occurs between these species, though occasional aggressive encounters also take place. Beyond primates, affiliative relationships extend to non-primate animals such as white-lipped peccaries and various bird species, indicating the complexity of their social interactions and opportunistic associations with sympatric species.


As mentioned before, capuchins have very expressive faces, which they use to communicate to each other. Aside from that, they have a wide range of sounds and calls that they use to further interact within their social groups, from barks to squeals to yelps. Each sound they make has a unique meaning, ranging from threat detection calls to forms of loving affection. Capuchins also use grooming, playing, and sex to show their interest in intimacies with other individuals in their group.

Reproduction and Family

White-faced capuchins engage in a polygynandrous mating system, where both males and females have multiple partners. Though dominant males have more mating opportunities, they allow subordinate males to mate as well. Specific vocalizations, facial expressions, and postures precede copulation. Breeding is seasonal, with peak female fertility occurring from January to April, although mating can happen year-round. 

Females give birth to a single offspring (and sometimes twins, though rare) every 27 months, typically during the dry season from December to April, after a gestation period of 5–6 months. Newborns are carried on their mothers’ backs for the first six weeks and become independent by around seven years old. Males reach reproductive maturity at 7 to 10 years, while females become sexually mature at 4, but typically give birth for the first time at 7 years old.

Dominant males enjoy long tenures and mate with multiple females, leading to a high level of inter-relatedness within the troop, while subordinate males are permitted to mate with the dominant male’s daughters as a reward for helping protect the troop.

Ecological Role

White-throated capuchins disperse seeds throughout their environments, both through their feces and because they tend to discard a majority of the seeds and fibers of the fruit they eat (as mentioned before). Furthermore, they help protect and nourish local trees by pruning behaviors and from eating the insects that otherwise would harm the trees.

Conservation Status and Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Colombian white-throated capuchin as Vulnerable (IUCN 2020). Unfortunately, their population is decreasing.

The Colombian white-faced capuchin faces threats primarily due to being hunted and trapped in certain regions as crop nuisances or for the pet trade, though importation is now illegal to protect the wild populations. Still, these species are exploited for entertainment purposes, including roles in movies and television, as well as use in laboratory experiments.

Moreover, extensive deforestation poses a significant risk, diminishing their habitats and pushing these capuchins towards endangerment. While some populations are protected within national parks and reserves across Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama, the adaptability of this species to various habitats offers a glimmer of hope to those living in non-protected areas. Further population reductions of at least 30% are anticipated due to habitat loss and the pet trade. Conservation efforts are crucial to safeguarding these intelligent primates and preventing further decline in their wild populations.

Conservation Efforts

The Colombian white-throated 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.


Written by Hannah Broadland, January 2024