Geographic Distribution and Habitat
Putty-nosed monkeys (Cercopithecus nictitans), also known as greater spot-nosed monkeys, white-nosed guenons, or greater white-nosed monkeys, occupy a wide range of dense forest habitats in western and central Africa, including moist tropical lowland forests, montane forests, swamp and mangrove forests, and dense gallery forests. They range from Guinea in the west to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the east. Populations are found in Guinea, Liberian Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Putty-nosed monkeys typically reside in the main canopy layer and rarely descend to the ground.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Sexual dimorphism is evident in the greater-spot nosed monkey, with males being larger than females. On average, individuals weigh 9.25–14.5 lbs (4.2–6.6 kg) and measure 16.9–25 inches (43–66 cm) long, with males weighing closer to the top end of each range. Tail lengths are almost as long as their body, ranging from 14 to 20 inches (36–53 cm).
Recordings of longevity in the wild for putty-nosed monkeys are rare, since very few studies have been conducted on this species. Other guenon species live for about 20 years in the wild, so it can be assumed that the greater-spot nosed monkey has a similar lifespan. In captivity, they can live up to 31 years.
Environmental disturbance or environmental pollution originating in human activity.
Incapable of grasping or gripping.
Visit the Glossary for more definitions
The distinctive white spot covering their nose gives the putty-nosed monkey a unique appearance. Their hair is olive gray or black to greenish yellow. Their underparts are white or grayish-white. Their faces are bare except for a few black hairs on their upper lip, which can also be yellow. The hair on their cheeks is yellow tipped with black. Their eyes are often reddish-brown, surrounded by yellow or orange skin. Occasionally a dark brown or blackish ring is noticeable around the exterior of the iris.
The hair at the top of their head is black and they have a mane that extends from the neck to chest, and from the base of one ear to the other. The limbs are yellow tinged with brown and red. Their hands and feet are similarly colored. The inside of their limbs and chest are light gray or white.
Variations of color among individual’s body hair can be from overall olive to a true green tint to a dark brown. Their non-prehensile tail is grayish brown or black on the exterior and yellowish underneath, with a blackish tip.
Putty-nosed monkeys are primarily frugivorous (fruit-eating), but seeds are also a large part of their diet. They also consume insects, leaves, nuts, flowers, and occasionally agricultural crops. Like most Old World monkeys, they have cheek-pouches that can hold almost as much food as their stomachs can. The cheek-pouch is composed primarily of a well-developed cheek muscle (masseter) that exhibits high tensile (easily stretched) ability. They stuff their cheek-pouches with food to snack on later.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Putty-nosed monkeys are diurnal and arboreal primates, spending most of the day high in the trees. They are a social species living in groups of 12–30 individuals. They prefer to travel through the middle tree canopy and exhibit a range of acrobatic movements, such as leaping and darting.
Their habitat overlaps with another unique guenon species known as the Diana monkey (Cercopithecus diana). It has been found that the putty-nosed monkey and the Diana monkey form polyspecific associations. It other words, they form relationships either by chance (sharing a habitat or resources) or because they actively seek the company of one another. It is thought that these two primates form mixed-species groups for the purpose of protection against predation and for shared foraging.
Putty-nosed monkeys carry a variety of parasites, including a primate-specific strain of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum).
They are sometimes known as the “cowardly monkey” because of the high frequency of their alarm calls.
Putty-nosed monkeys are often preyed upon by hawks and felids (wild cats).
Putty-nosed monkeys have a uni-male social system with a polygynous mating system, in which one male mates with multiple females. Occasionally males try to take over another group; however, this does not always lead to success.
Males disperse from their natal group once they reach puberty and they live solitarily or join another group. Females remain within their natal group.
Unfortunately, very few studies have been conducted on the putty-nosed monkey, especially their social behavior and group life. However, other guenon species are known to form mixed guenon groups. They do not interbreed; rather, they form these groups for “safety in numbers.” In Cameroon, specifically in Kom and other nearby sites, putty-nosed monkeys have been observed in mixed groups with mona monkeys (Cercopithecus mona), Preuss’s monkeys (Cercopithecus preussi preussi), and red-eared guenons (Cercopithecus erythrotis), all of which are guenon species.
Putty-nosed monkeys make a wide range of vocalizations, varying from deep booms to chirps.
Boom calls are emitted primarily by males. They are loud, low-frequency calls that may announce territorial boundaries or alert the troop to the presence of predators. On rare occasions, the boom call can sound like a “purr” due to its low frequency. The purr vocalization is used to distract a threat while the rest of the troop slips away. This purr is mainly emitted by neighboring Preuss’s monkeys. Putty-nosed monkeys understand this call and may use also use it themselves or in concert with the Preuss’s monkey’s purrs.
Chirps are vocalizations emitted by females and sub-adults to attract the attention of the group, to stimulate mobbing behavior, or to leave an open area. They sound very similar to a bird calling and are often short in nature.
Isolation calls are performed by group members who are separated from the troop, mainly infants and juveniles.
Like many guenon species, putty-nosed monkeys have a complex communication system. They often combine calls to make sentence-like messages, and their messages can be understood by Diana monkeys as well as mona monkeys, Preuss’s monkeys, and red-eared guenons. The meaning of the message depends on what sounds are included and in what order. For instance, an added sound can convey information like “not urgent,” “urgent,” or “maybe.” Each predator elicits its own designated call. For example, the call when a jaguar is spotted is different from the call for an eagle.
Olfactory communication mostly includes mutual genital sniffing and muzzle sniffing, which are done mainly by males. Muzzle sniffing is performed by a juvenile male to an adult male, when the adult male is giving a loud call.
Visual communication involves staring and head bobbing, which are used as threat expressions. The “fear grimace” is when an individual retracts their lips to show their teeth that are clenched together. This display is a signal to reduce tension.
Putty-nosed monkeys have a polygynous mating system. One resident adult male mates with multiple females for offspring. This one adult male has exclusive breeding access to all of the females for about five years.
Females reach maturity around four years of age. When they are ready to mate they present their estrous swellings to males. Once pregnant, they gestate for about 172 days, which means from the time the fetus develops to when they give birth is about 24.5 weeks long. They give birth to one offspring roughly every two years.
There is little information on the breeding season, parental investment, and reproductive cycle in putty-nosed monkeys. However, it is assumed that like other guenons, the infants are born well-developed and mothers invest most of their time in infant care. Females protect, feed, and care for their infant for nearly six months.
Putty-nosed monkeys often consume seeds and fruits away from the initial parent site, which positively impacts the forest’s diversity. This is because while putty-nosed monkeys forage, they fill their cheek pouches with food. Most of the time the food will be consumed elsewhere, like on the way to the next feeding or resting site. Putty-nosed monkeys play a large role in seed dispersal.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists this species as Near Threatened (IUCN, 2016) due to widespread heavy hunting pressure, combined with habitat loss, and degradation. Increasing human population density, hunting intensity, and deforestation make it unlikely that pressure on putty-nosed monkeys will subside in the short term. It is suspected that the ongoing decline across the range will be in the order of 20–25% within three generations (about 27 years), from 2003 projected to 2030.
Putty-nosed monkeys are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and on Class B of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. In addition, they occur in several protected areas, including Monte Alen National park (Equatorial Guinea) and Mbam Djerem National Park (Cameroon), among others.
Much research is needed into the taxonomy of this species as well as population size, distribution, and trends in order to incorporate the proper conservation actions.
- Bitty, E., W. McGraw. 2007. Locomotion and Habitat Use of Stampflii’s Putty-Nosed Monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans stampflii) in the Tai National Park, Ivory Coast. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 134: 383-391.
- Fleagle, J. G. 1988. Primate Adaptation and Evolution. Academic Press.
Written by Tara Covert, August 2019