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Golden snub-nosed monkey
Rhinopithecus roxellana

Conservation status:

Life span: >23 years (captive)
Total population: 8,000 to 20,000
Regions: Central China
Gestation: 6 months
Height: 58.2 to 68 cm (M), 47.5 to 51.8 cm (F)
Weight: 19.8 kg (M), 12.4 kg (F)

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Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Family: Cercopithecidae
Subfamily: Colobinae
Genus: Rhinopithecus
Species: R. roxellana
Subspecies: R. r. hubeiensis, R. r. roxellana, R. r. qinlingensis

Other names: Pygathrix (Rhinopithecus) roxellana, R. roxellanae, golden snub-nosed monkey, golden-haired snub-nosed monkey, Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey, snub-nosed leaf monkey, golden snub-nosed leaf monkey, snow monkey, orange monkey, Roxellane's monkey, Moupin langur; rhinopithèque de roxellane; rhinopithèque doré (French); langur chato (Spanish); trubbnäsapa (Swedish); R. r. hubeiensis: Hubei golden snub-nosed monkey; R. r. roxellana: Moupin golden snub-nosed monkey; R. r. qinlingensis: Quinling golden snub-nosed monkey.

The snub-nosed monkeys of the genus Rhinopithecus were formerly listed as a subgenus of Pygathrix but Groves (2001 following Wang et al. 1998) elevated Rhinopithecus to full genus level. The species name "roxellana" refers to, and is named after, the purportedly snub-nosed concubine and wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, a 16th century Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (Groves 1970).


Rhinopithecus roxellana
Photo: Yan Kanghui

The golden monkey's (Rhinopithecus roxellana) body and limbs are yellowish-red ranging from somewhat more brown to more brightly orange-red (Groves 2001). The back and dorsal surfaces have some black or dark brown, which extends down the extremities as a stripe and more solidly down the tail (Brandon-Jones 1985; Groves 2001). The back of the thighs is white and ventral surfaces of the body are yellowish-white or white-orange (Groves 1970; Brandon-Jones 1985, Groves 2001). Pelage is dark on the crown and upper back (Brandon-Jones 1985, Groves 2001). Males are brighter in color than other age and sex classes and as their age increases, the amount of orange in the coat increases (Brandon-Jones 1985). The muzzle is white and hairless and the area around the eyes is pale blue (Brandon-Jones 1985; Groves 2001). The body hair is long, usually ranging between 5 and 8 cm (2.0 and 3.1 in) and is interspersed with longer yellow hairs ranging from 12-16 cm (4.7-6.3 in) long (Groves 1970). Longer golden back hairs in adult males start growing after about six years old and can be up to 55 cm (21.7 in) long (Liang et al. 2000). The nostrils on the characteristic nose point directly forward and at the corners of the mouth, adult males have a wart-like growth (Groves 2001). This wart-like growth is the sole example of such a feature among the primates. Other members of the genus Rhinopithecus do not possess such a growth, nor do females of the species. The function of these growths has not been studied (Liang et al. 2000). The male genitals are bright, with a black penis and a blue-white scrotum (Davison 1982).

Head and body length averages 68.0 cm (26.8 in) in R. r. roxellana males and 51.8 cm (20.4 in) in females. R. r. qinlingensis males average 58.2 cm (22.9 in) and females average 48.4 cm (19.1 in). R. r. hubeiensis males average 67.4 cm (26.5 in) and females average 47.5 cm (18.7 in). The tail can range from about the same as the head and body length in R. r. roxellana, to longer than the head and body in R. r. hubeiensis (Wang et al. 1998). Actual body weight in males averages 17.9 kg (39.5 lb) and females average 11.6 kg (25.6 lb), however because of extreme variance and other factors, body weight estimates are considered somewhat more reliable than actual specimen weights. These estimates place average females at 12.4 kg (27.3 lb) and males at 19.8 kg (43.7 lb) (Jablonski & Pan 1995). In addition, there may be significant weight fluctuations with the seasons as well as between populations and habitats (Long Yong-Cheng pers. comm. cited in Jablonski & Pan 1995; Jablonski & Pan 1995). Either way, the species is sexually dimorphic based on body weight and size and adult males are larger than adult females (Jablonski & Pan 1995; Liang et al. 2001; Yi 2007).

In addition to pelage and body morphology differences, the subspecies are differentiated by differences in their nasal bones, pre-maxillae, and braincases (Wang et al. 1998). R. r. roxellana is characterized by its dull golden-red pelage with black-brown shoulders, and limbs (Wang et al. 1998). R. r. hubeiensis is distinguished by a longer tail than the other subspecies of golden snub-nosed monkey, up to 125% of the head and body length. Of the golden snub-nosed monkeys, it is the palest in pelage (Wang et al. 1998). R. r. qinlingensis is differentiated from the other subspecies by its brilliant golden pelage (Wang et al. 1998).

Wild golden snub-nosed monkeys can be very arboreal, spending 97.1% of their time in trees, mainly using the middle and upper strata of the forest (Yi 2007). However, in captivity and in other wild studies, the species spends more time on the ground and might be best described as semi-arboreal (Davison 1982; Su et al. 1998). In the wild, arboreal locomotion consists of large amounts of quadrupedal walking, climbing and leaping (Pan & Jablonski 1993; Su & Jablonski 1998; Su et al. 1998). Locomotion is 43% quadrupedal, 33% leaping and jumping, and 24% brachiation (Agetsuma et al. 1994). In addition, leaping with the forearms extended is used to move between trees and rarely, arm-swinging is used (Su et al. 1998). In captivity, types of arboreal locomotion consist of walking along horizontal supports, modified brachiation, vertical climbing and leaping and noisy display rushes. Travel on the ground in captivity includes quadrupedal walking, trotting and bounding, and occasional bipedal steps (Davison 1982).

In captivity, golden snub-nosed monkeys have lived past 23 years of age (Weigl 2005).


Rhinopithecus roxellana

The golden snub-nosed monkey is found only in temperate, montane forests in central China (Kirkpatrick et al. 1999). Generally speaking, the species is found in the Sichuan, Gansu, Hubei and Shaanxi provinces around the edges of the Sichuan Basin. However, within this range, habitats are often separated and the distribution is not contiguous. The R. r. roxellana range is restricted to the western parts of the Sichuan province and the southern parts of the Gansu province between the Dadu River and the Sichuan Basin. R. r. qinlingensis ranges only in the southern Shaanxi province in the southern Qinling Mountains. R. r. hubeiensis ranges in the western Hubei and southeastern Sichuan provinces. It is restricted to areas within and around the Shennongjia forest region (Wang et al. 1998). The presence of golden snub-nosed monkeys in India near the Chinese border has long been debated and appears supported only by anecdotal evidence (see Gee 1952; Groves 1970; Roonwal & Mohnot 1977; Das-Chaudhuri 1991; Srinivasulu & Nagulu 2001).

Almost all systematic research on the golden snub-nosed monkey has taken place in the Shennongjia Nature Reserve and at the Baihe Nature Reserve, in the Hubei and Sichuan Provinces respectively (Kirkpatrick et al. 1999).

Total estimated population worldwide of R. roxellana and subspecies is estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 individuals (Ren et al. 1996/1997). Other estimates however, extrapolating from known population numbers in particular areas, place the total number somewhat higher, at roughly 20,000 individuals (Zhang et al. 2002).


Golden snub-nosed monkeys inhabit mountainous temperate forests consisting of a mix of evergreen conifer and deciduous broadleaf trees in central China (Kirkpatrick et al. 1999). The species also uses a significant number of dead trees within their habitats as these are better hosts for food lichens than live trees (Li 2006). While the species will use secondary forest and shrub forest, they prefer primary forest (Li et al. 2002b; Li 2004). The altitude of their habitat ranges from 1200 to 3300 meters and is often topographically rugged (Gao & Liu 1995; Kirkpatrick 1995; Li 2007). Moving from lower altitudes to higher, the forest grades from predominantly deciduous broadleaf, to a mix of deciduous broadleaf and coniferous, to predominantly coniferous forest (Li et al.1994 cited in Li et al 2000; Li et al. 1995 cited in Li et al. 2000; Li et al. 2000). In general, the higher the elevation, the more coniferous trees predominate in the golden snub-nosed monkey habitats (Li 2007). Towards the higher altitudes of its habitat, it is found in sub-alpine conifer forests (Gao & Liu 1995).

Winter snow occurs often and cover can be long lasting, with the monkeys having to forage in snow cover for up to four months (usually stable cover from December to March) while withstanding the coldest average temperatures of any non-human primate in the world (Kirkpatrick et al. 1999; Li 2002; Li 2006; Li 2007). Because of the climatic seasonality of their habitat, their diet varies as well based on food availability. Lichens and bark are available year-round while buds, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds are only seasonally available (Li 2006). Within their habitat, golden snub-nosed monkeys mainly use the middle and upper forest strata (Li 2007).

Rhinopithecus roxellana
Photo: Yan Kanghui

In habitats on the southern slope of the Qinling Mountains in the Shaanxi province, the temperature can range from lows of -4 to 1°C (24.8 to 33.8°F) in the winter during January to 20 to 24°C (68 to 75.2 °F) in the summer in July with an average of 12°C (53.6°F) (Gao & Liu 1995). On the northern slope of the mountains, temperatures are different, with a mean annual temperature of 6.4°C (43.5°F) reaching as low as -8.3°C (17.1°F) in January and as high as 21.7°C (71.1°F) in July. Annual average rainfall at this study site is 98.0 cm (38.6 in). Winters are long and summers are short and the area is free of frost for less than half of the year (Gao & Liu 1995; Li et al. 2000).

At the Shennongjia Nature Reserve in Hubei province, the climate is highly seasonal with a rainy, moderate temperature spring (April to May), warm summer (June to mid-August), autumn (mid-August to October), and snowy winter (November-March) (Li 2002; Li 2006). July temperatures at this study site average 17.8°C (64.0°F) and January temperatures average -2.8°C (27.0°F). Rainfall here averages 180.0 cm (70.9 in) (Li 2006).


Golden snub-nosed monkeys are primarily diurnal herbivores, consuming mainly lichens followed by other types of plant foods including trees, shrubs and vines as well as insects (Su et al. 1998; Li 2001; 2006). Due to their reliance on lichens, dead trees are often preferred as they host more lichens than live trees. On an annual basis, lichens of the family Usneaceae account for 43.28% of feeding, followed by young leaves (28.71%), fruits or seeds (14.57%), buds (5.36%), mature leaves (3.51%), herbs (2.09%), bark (1.36%) and flowers (1.13%) (Li 2006). Feeding primarily occurs in the middle and upper strata as these are the locations of the majority of its foods, however the monkeys eat bark from the low and middle strata and herbs and grasses on the ground (Kirkpatrick 1998; Li 2007).

Adult males spend more time on the ground than any of the other ages or sexes. Overall, the day is spent on the ground (15.3%), in the lower strata (24.3%), in the middle strata (28.2%) and in the canopy (32.2%) (Ren et al. 2001). In general, the predominantly arboreal nature of the species is due to the location of food resources and plant types as well as the risk of predation (Li 2007). Preferred trees include Connus controversa, Cerasus discadenia, Salix willichiana, Malus halliana, Abies fargesii, and Pinus armandii (Li et al. 2002b; Li 2006).

Rhinopithecus roxellana
Photo: Cyril Grueter

The availability of foods and consumption by the golden snub-nosed monkey changes considerably between the seasons (Li 2006). Lichens are available year-round while other foods such as leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds are only present over various periods between April and November. Thus, not surprisingly, lichens are eaten more in winter than in the rest of the year and are a winter staple along with bark, insects and seeds (Su et al. 1998; Li 2001; Li et al. 2002b; Li 2006). In some habitats, lichens are not widely available in winter, resulting in the species relying more on bark in the winter (W.S.Pan, pers. comm. cited in Kirkpatrick 1998). Over the course of the year, diet consists of mostly lichens (Nov-Apr), leaves and lichens (May-July), and fruits, seeds, and lichens (Aug-Oct) (Li 2006). Bryophytes are consumed only in the summer and autumn (Kirkpatrick 1998). The species has been observed eating snow in the winter (Su et al. 1998).

In general, the day is broken up into two halves, with a rest period at noon and travel peaks in both the morning and afternoon (Li 2002). After each of the two travel peaks, more or less sedentary feeding is observed (Ren et al. 2000).

The home range of the golden snub-nosed monkey is quite large, with estimates and observations placing the value between 18.3 and 40 sq. km (7.1 and 15.4 sq. mi) (Su et al. 1998; Li et al. 2000; Ren et al. 2000; Tan et al. 2007). Home ranges of different groups can overlap (Ren et al. 2000). Within the home range, there is a core area of use which is considerably smaller, in one study averaging around 7.4 sq. km (2.9 sq. mi) (Tan et al. 2007). Daily path is variable with the seasons and between study sites, ranging from 100 to 5000 m (328.1 to 16,404.2 ft), with average daily distances ranging between 710 to 2100 m (2329.4 to 6889.8 ft) (Agetsuma et al. 1994; Su et al. 1998; Ren et al. 2000; Li 2002; Tan et al. 2007). Daily path is shorter during the winter than during other times of the year (Li 2002; Tan et al. 2007).

Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) have been seen attacking a juvenile golden snub-nosed monkey and are predators of the species (Zhang et al. 1999b). Other potential and actual predators include the red dog (Cuon alpinus), wolf (Canis lupus), Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temmincki), leopard (Panthera pardus), fox, zibet (Viverra zibetha), tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), weasel (Martes sp.) and the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) (Happel & Cheek 1987; Su et al. 1998; Hu 1998 cited in Li et al. 2002b; Li 2007). A wolf was observed attacking a golden monkey group and fighting an adult male which subsequently died of its injuries (Renmei Ren pers. comm.).

Potential food competitors include the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the takin (Budorcas taxicolor). In addition, the golden snub-nosed monkey may compete for food with the sympatric stump-tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides) (Happel & Cheek 1987).

Content last modified: November 20, 2007

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Renmei Ren.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2007 November 20. Primate Factsheets: Golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2014 April 19.