Cebus brunneus

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

The Venezuelan brown capuchin, also known as the brown weeper capuchin, is endemic to the northern parts of Venezuela. Specifically, it occurs from the west at the San Luis, Aroa, and Churuguara Mountain Ranges, along north-central Venezuela (Bachiller Mountain Range, Barlovento Plains, and Clarines Heights), and to the east at the mountains of the Araya and Paria Peninsulas.

The habitat of the species is located in cloud forests (moist tropical or subtropical forests characterized by low-level clouds), secondary forests (those that have naturally regrown after a period of human-caused disturbance), lowland rainforests, gallery forests (those formed along riverbanks that flow into otherwise open areas, such as deserts or savannas), and semi-deciduous forests (where some trees, bushes, or plants lose part of their foliage during autumn/winter, or the dry season). They are tolerant of living in habitats modified by humans, and the largest concentration of human settlements in Venezuela lies within their range.

The elevation of their range extends from 328-4,593 feet (100-1,400 m).


What a tangled web we weave!

The Venezuelan brown capuchin was previously considered a subspecies of the Guianan weeper capuchin (Cebus olivaceus). However, a study in 2012 found genetic evidence for separating them as distinct species from one another. This taxonomy (classification of organisms) is still highly debated. 

In addition, the American Society of Mammalogists considers the Venezuelan brown capuchin to be the same species as the Trinidad white-fronted capuchin (C. albifrons trinitatis). 

For the sake of this profile, the Venezuelan brown capuchin will be recognized as a single, unique species.

Finally, once upon a time, all capuchins were classified in the genus Cebus, or gracile (slenderly-built) capuchins. Also in 2012, capuchins were subdivided into two genera: the robust (or tufted) capuchins (genus Sapajus), and the gracile capuchins. The Venezuelan brown capuchins are now proud members of the gracile capuchin monkeys genus!

Venezuelan brown capuchin range, IUCN 2023

Size, Weight, and Lifespan

The head-body length of the Venezuelan brown capuchin is around 16.5 inches (42 cm), with a tail measuring 17.3 inches (44 cm). They weigh in at 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg). They do not appear to exhibit sexual dimorphism (noticeable physical differences between genders).

The lifespan of the Venezuelan brown capuchin is unknown. However, reports regarding other capuchin monkey species indicate that wild individuals may live to be 25 years old.


The Venezuelan brown capuchin has long, thick, brown fur over much of the body with some exceptions. The face is bare, and framed with pale yellowish-gray fur. A distinctive V-shaped patch of dark fur is found on the top of the head and comes to a point on the forehead. Their cheeks and chin are whiteish, and the throat is lighter than the blackish-brown underparts. The upper arms are pale yellowish up to the elbows, while the hands and feet are almost black. The eyes are a deep chocolate brown.

Their limbs are long and slender, enabling them to travel around their tree-dominated habitat with remarkable agility and grace. The tail (which is the same shade of brown as the back) is prehensile, acting as a fifth limb allowing them to balance and grab onto branches and navigate the habitat with ease. However, Venezuelan brown capuchins cannot hang by their tail, because the tail cannot support their body weight.

Photo: © Oswaldo Hernández/-iNaturalist/Creative Commons

The Venezuelan brown capuchin is omnivorous, feeding on fruits, flowers, young leaves, and invertebrates such as insects and their larvae, and snails.

The species is intelligent, and has been known to occasionally use tools to perfect their quest for food! They have been observed using leaves as cups to drink water from hollows in trees. In addition, they have been observed rubbing and pounding fruits against a hard surface (such as a tree branch) to get at the juicy fruit inside. A similar technique used for eating snails will be detailed in the Fun Facts section. 

Much like other species of capuchin, male Venezuelan brown capuchins spend more time on the ground (up to 34% of their foraging time) than females do. Whether this is due to differences in diet between the genders, or males playing more of a protector role by looking out for predators (and thus, potentially boosting their status in the group), is unknown.

Behavior and Lifestyle

The Venezuelan brown capuchin is diurnal (most active during the day) and arboreal (spending most of the time in the trees).

Few studies have been conducted specifically on the Venezuelan brown capuchin (which contributes to the already confounding information regarding the exact taxonomy of the species studied). This includes specifics regarding their behavior and lifestyle. If we look at the Venezuelan brown capuchin’s closely related species, the Guianan weeper capuchin, it can be presumed that much of the day is spent foraging for food in groups, while nights are spent sleeping upon the branches of the trees (as opposed to within nests). Like other capuchins, the primary mode of locomotion is quadrupedalism (moving on four limbs), though they may also be capable of standing and walking upright.

Potential predators of the Venezuelan brown capuchin include humans, who hunt them for sale to zoos, as domestic pets, or to protect crops from damages perceived to be caused by the species. Natural predators include jaguars, ocelots, snakes, and birds of prey.

While studies of the Venezuelan brown 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 together in groups, spending most of their time in the trees to avoid ground-based predators, using their natural agility to beat a hasty retreat, using their natural coloration to act as camouflage which allows them 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).

Fun Facts

Forget the snail fork! To get at the juicy snail meat, Venezuelan brown capuchins have been observed pounding snails repeatedly against tree branches to crack the shells.

Capuchins are named for their “caps” of hair, which resemble a capuche, the cowl worn by a Capuchin friar (a type of Catholic monk). 

Daily Life and Group Dynamics

Almost all monkeys travel in groups, and the Venezuelan brown capuchin is no exception. Juveniles of both genders and adult females make up the majority of the group (which averages around 10 individuals), along with unrelated adult males. This population structure is due to young males leaving their natal (birth) group upon reaching sexual maturity in search of a new group to join or establish. A group’s home range averages 208 acres (84 ha).

Once again, due to the lack of studies focusing specifically on the Venezuelan brown capuchin, much information on their daily lives is lacking and must be inferred from what we know about other capuchin species.

Urine washing has been commonly observed among this species, likely to mark territorial boundaries. Individuals will wash their hands and feet with urine and move around their home range as a means of establishing boundaries between groups. It may sound gross, but it works!

Regarding interaction with other primate species, the Venezuelan brown capuchin has been observed occupying large fig trees alongside Colombian red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniclulus).


As is true of other species of capuchin monkeys, the Venezuelan brown capuchin likely possesses a large communication repertoire, including body movements, touching, facial expressions, and vocalizations. Once again, few studies on the Venezuelan brown capuchin have been conducted regarding this repertoire, but some observations have been made:

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

• If a group member ever becomes lost, contact calls (such as “arrh”) may be used to locate the group. These contact calls may also be used by females to signal that the group should move in a different direction.

• As they are also known as the “brown weeper capuchin”, the species makes sorrowful sounds similar to weeping.

• Similar to their relative, the Guianan weeper capuchin, it has been presumed that Venezuelan brown capuchins emit high-pitched screams to alert the troop to predators, such as jaguars, boas, and birds of prey. They may bare their teeth and scream at intruders of the same species as a sign of aggression and dominance. Lip-smacking and swaying are associated with positive interactions such as grooming or intercourse.

Reproduction and Family

The Venezuelan brown capuchin is polygamous (meaning males and females mate with multiple members of the opposite gender). Breeding and births occur throughout the year. Individuals reach sexual maturity between four and five years of age, upon which males will leave their home group to either integrate into another group or form a group of their own.

Females are the primary caregivers of their young. The adult males do little to nothing with regard to parental care.

Yet again, due to the lack of studies focusing on the species, additional information regarding the reproduction and development of the Venezuelan brown capuchin is severely lacking. While births do occur year-round, it is not uncommon for birth peaks to occur at different times depending upon the habitat within which capuchin species live, and therefore, food abundance. For example, corresponding with the increased abundance of food, the Guianan weeper capuchin has a peak of births late in the dry season/early in the rainy season. Like other capuchin species, female Venezuelan brown capuchins give birth to a single offspring, and likely have an interval between births ranging from 19-26 months. Babies likely cling to their mother’s belly, and later on her back. After three months, the young may begin exploring their environment, while still heavily reliant on Mom. At this age, young may also begin eating solid food, and weaning [in other capuchins] occurs after 416 days.

Photo: Naomivaldez15/Creative Commons
Ecological Role

As fruit-eaters, Venezuelan brown 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 the pollen on each flower they visit, thereby pollinating the plants. In addition, they may serve as pest-controllers, since a portion of their diet is made up of insects and their larvae. Finally, as a prey species, they also play a role in feeding local predators within their range.

Conservation Status and Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Venezuelan brown capuchin as Endangered (IUCN, 2020), appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The primary threat facing the Venezuelan brown capuchin is the encroachment and conversion of their habitat to housing and urban areas, as well as commercial and industrial sites. Landscape changes also include deforestation and habitat conversion due to agricultural activities and cattle ranching, particularly in the western and eastern parts of the species’ range. 

The distribution of the Venezuelan brown capuchin matches the location of the major urban areas of Venezuela, such as the central cities of Caracas, Maracay, and Valencia. Along with Caracas, the largest concentration of human settlements in the country lies within the states of Miranda, Aragua, and Carabobo. These states are located right in the middle of the Venezuelan brown capuchin distribution. In addition, Caracas and the previously mentioned states are among the top five areas for human migration within the country.

In some areas, Venezuelan brown capuchins have been accused of damaging crops, resulting in them being targeted by hunters. They are also commonly sought after as pets, are among the most illegally traded primates of Venezuela, and are one of the most common primates found in Venezuelan zoos. 

Conservation Efforts

The Venezuelan brown capuchin is listed in Appendix II (as C. olivaceus) 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.

The Venezuelan brown capuchin occurs in a number of protected National Parks throughout northern Venezuela, including:

  • El Avila National Park
  • Henri Pittier National Park
  • Guatopo National Park
  • Macarao National Park
  • San Esteban National Park
  • Morrocoy National Park
  • Sierra San Luis National Park
  • Yurubí National Park
  • Cueva Quebrada del Toro National Park
  • Mochima National Park
  • Paria National Park

Basic as well as applied ecological studies and research are desperately needed for the Venezuelan brown capuchin. As mentioned, since there is a lack of verified scientific information about the species, much has to be inferred from studies of other capuchin species. Hunting and illegal trading must be strictly prohibited, with better monitoring and enforcement by state and federal government bodies. In addition, conservation programs must be implemented. Finally, it is urgent to fully control habitat fragmentation, conversion, as well as logging if this endangered species has any chance of avoiding extinction.


Written by Sienna Weinstein, May 2024