Geographic Distribution and Habitat
Ornate titis are endemic to eastern Colombia and live in the Department of Cundinamarca and south into the Department of Meta. They mainly inhabit tropic and sub-tropic levels of the forest. Ornate titis prefer areas of dense vegetation like thickets, tangles, underbrushes, and even wet or waterlogged areas. They can also be found in forest fragments and edge habitats. Edge habitats are advantageous for ornate titis due to a high diversity of vegetation in those areas.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Male and female ornate titis do not differentiate in appearance and both sexes tend to be around the same size. Male average head-to-body length is 13 inches (33 cm) and female average head-to-body length is 12.9 inches (33 cm). Tail length ranges from 14 to 25 inches (35.6–63.5 cm) in both males and females.
Weight in males averages 2.6 pounds (1.178 kg) while females average 2.56 pounds (1.163 kg).
In captivity, both sexes can live up to 25 years. In the wild they generally live into their early 20s.
The time of pregnancy from conception until birth.
Incapable of grasping or gripping (opposite of prehensile: capable of grasping).
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Ornate titis’ fur covers their entire bodies—except for their faces, which are covered in tiny short hairs. Bands of hair that alternate between gray, brown, black, and white are interspersed throughout their plush gray fur; this color combination is also known as agouti, and it continues all the way down to their tails. Their thick, dense, and fluffy coats make it hard to see their little faces, until they glance at you with glowing brown eyes. Though their faces may appear to be stoic and unexpressive, they can clearly communicate their intentions to one other through their facial expressions.
Ornate titis have white ear tufts and a white band of fur across their foreheads. A unique feature is the burnt reddish orange hairs on their necks, which resemble little beards. Their chests, arms, legs, and undersides are the same burnt orange color.
Despite being small, their bodies are strong and sturdy. Their fingers and toes are very nimble and can grasp tightly onto branches, vines, and food.
The ornate titi’s diet is mainly frugivorous, consisting of 60–70% fruit. They prefer unripe fruits, specifically those that come from smaller trees, as they can efficiently exploit the close concentration of fruits in these trees. Occasionally, moths, butterflies, cocoons, spiders, and ants are on the menu. Their dexterous fingers enable them to snatch flying insects in the air as they go by.
Small leaves, which make up more than a quarter of the ornate titi’s diet, are popular in the dry season. Vines and bamboo-based plants are also consumed more in the dry season.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Ornate titis have a monogamous mating system. A mated pair has a strong bond and stays together for years. Mated pairs enjoy huddling together, grooming, and entwining tails. They prefer to stay close together whenever possible and follow each other throughout the day. Family groups can include generations of offspring.
Ornate titis are highly terrestrial and tend to inhabit lower and denser tropical forest. While maneuvering through their habitat, they use all four limbs (this is called quadrupedalism) and sporadically jump short distances when needed. Their non-prehensile tail provides balance as they travel on branches and vines.
Tail entwining is used often to reinforce bonds among pairs.
Like other titi monkeys, the ornate titi is diurnal, rising early in the morning and remaining awake and active until sunset. After sunrise, they feed, groom, play, and rest. Usually, there are two main feeding sessions; one in the morning and one in the evening. A resting session occurs at midday.
During the evening, vine tangles located on small branches about 50 feet above the ground are used as sleeping sites. Sleeping sites are sometimes used from night to night. As ornate titi monkeys sleep, group members stay within 3 feet (1 m) of one another. Sometimes group members cuddle with one another while sleeping and resting.
These daily activities depend on the season. Titi monkeys rise at dawn in the warm months, when fruit is more available. In contrast, they may stay in their sleeping sites for hours after sunrise in colder months. Daily ranges can vary between .26 miles (425 m) and .72 miles (1152 m), but usually average toward the lower end of that range. Weather and other circumstances can cause day ranges to be much longer or shorter.
Ornate titis use a variety of vocalizations to communicate including chirp calls, grunts, moans, squeaks, whistles, and bellows.
Solos and duets are common in titi monkeys and are unique to the species. In the early morning or just before dawn, pairs produce loud calls. These calls often echo long distances through the forest. These duets convey to other monkeys in the vicinity that this is their territory.
Visual signals are common in ornate titis, especially in response to disturbances, predators, and even hostility. Swaying the entire body, turning the head sideways, lowering the head to face downward, and arching of the back are examples of some of these signals.
Facial expressions observed include partial and complete shutting of the eyes, protrusion of the lips and baring of the teeth.
In order to establish social bonds, physical communication is key in ornate titi monkeys. A specific behavior called tail-twining is a form of affection in bonded titi pairs. A bonded adult pair typically perch on a branch side by side with their long bushy tails entwined, like a braid. Sometimes they snuggle up against each other with their hands clasped.
Adult females give birth to one infant after a gestation period of 4 to 6 months. Mothers nurse their young and carry them for about 20% of the time during the first month. After the first or second month of birth, maternal contact is infrequent. Males play the dominant role in the care of their young, making their upbringing almost entirely paternal. For the first 6 months, males carry the young on their backs. They protect, play with, and teach their young. Infant titi monkeys display more physical signs of distress when separated from their father than from the mother, with a few exceptions. Mated pairs also display physical signs of anxiety when they are separated from one another for too long.
Family size ranges from 2 to 5 individuals, including the mated pair and their offspring.
Ornate titis disperse seeds from the fruits they eat through defecation. This helps nourish the ecosystem throughout their range.
The preference for forest fragments and edges increases the ornate titi’s tolerance to habitat loss and fragmentation. However, their populations are still decreasing and are categorized as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2015).
Most of the ornate titi’s region has been subject to intense human colonization, habitat destruction, and fragmentation. This habitat loss and fragmentation has been caused by cattle ranching, logging, palm oil plantations, and petrol exploration and exploitation. In addition to these threats, ongoing military exercises and civil unrest has caused an increase in human intrusion and habitat disturbances.
Predators also pose as threat to their survival, such as raptors, hawks, eagles, snakes, and felids (wild cats).
There is little information known about the protected areas of the ornate titi due to conflict and occasional warfare. This makes it difficult to monitor their populations, collect information, and determine the best conservation methods. However, they are known to occur in areas of La Macarena National Park and Tinigua National Park. They are also listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II.
Conservation strategies for the ornate titi require more detailed information on the basic ecology of this species, especially in fragmented areas. Additional studies on landscape and environmental issues that could be affecting their dispersal patterns would also be helpful.
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Written by Tara Covert, March 2021