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Tufted capuchin
Cebus apella

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Conservation status:
Least concern

Life span: 45 years (captive)
Total population: Unknown
Regions: Neotropical South America
Gestation: 153 days (5 months)
Height: 444 mm (M), 390 mm (F)
Weight: 3.65 kg (M), 2.52 kg (F)

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Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Cebidae
Subfamily: Cebinae
Genus: Cebus
Species: C. apella
Subspecies: C. a. apella, C. a. fatuellus, C. a. macrocephalus, C. a. margaritae, C. a. peruanus, C. a. tocantinus

Other names: black-capped capuchin, brown capuchin, Guianan brown capuchin, tufted capuchin; gekuifde kapucijnaap (Dutch); sajon apelle (French); macaco prego (Spanish); tjockhuvudtamarin, brun kapucin, gulbröstad kapucin, mösskapucin (Swedish); C. a. apella: mono capuchin pardo (Spanish).

The taxonomy of the tufted capuchin is debated. Some researchers list certain types as subspecies while others elevate the same types to full species level (see Rylands et al. 2005). Groves lists six subspecies: C. a. apella, C. a. fatuellus, C. a. margaritae, C. a. macrocephalus, C. a. peruanus and C. a. tocantinus. He lists C. libidinosus, C. nigritus, and C. xanthosternos as discrete species, although some researchers place these as subspecies of C. apella (Groves 2001).


Cebus apella
Photo: Roy Fontaine

The brown or tufted capuchin is recognized by its characteristic head coloration, a black or dark brown cap with dark sideburns. On either side of the dark cap on the head there are tufts of dark fur above the ears. The shoulders are paler than the back which ranges from shades of yellow to red-brown, darkest in the middle of the back. Its legs, hands, and tail are darker than the rest of its pelage. The face can range from brown to pink (Groves 2001). There is significant variation in face color among even members of the same group but adult males tend to be darker in color than females (Emmons & Freer 1997). Sexual dimorphism is seen in the wild tufted capuchin with males averaging 3.650 kg (8.05 lb) and females averaging 2.520 kg (5.56 lb) (Fleagle 1999). Sexual dimorphism is also exhibited in canine size with males possessing larger canines than females (Kay et al 1988; Masterson 2003). In captivity, tufted capuchins are significantly heavier, with males averaging 6.089 kg (13.42 lb) and females averaging 3.19 kg (7.03 lb) in an extreme example (Leigh 1994). Head and body length is 444 mm (17.48 in) for males and 390 mm (15.35 in) for females. The tail is about as long as the rest of the body (Napier 1976). In a captive case of extreme longevity, a tufted capuchin male lived until he was at least 45 years old (Hakeem et al. 1996).

Locomotion is principally quadrupedal and while traveling, the prehensile tail is not typically used and is curved down behind the body. The tail is mainly used during feeding and foraging and serves as a brake while descending (Youlatos 1999). The tail helps to control risky movements, assist in changes in direction and to stabilize the capuchin while feeding in its characteristic seated posture. The tufted capuchin normally moves on branches and twigs and suspensory postures are rare (Fleagle & Mittermeier 1980; Youlatos 1999).


Cebus apella

The tufted capuchin is only found in South America, in the countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guiana, and Venezuela (Fragaszy et al. 2004). The Margarita island tufted capuchin (C. a. margaritae) is isolated from the rest of the population off of the north coast of Venezuela and is separated from the nearest mainland population by around 800 km (Groves 2001; reviewed in Fragaszy et al. 2004). This population presumably has been on the island since the pre-Columbian era but, ultimately, its origin is unknown (Groves 2001). The heart of the range of the tufted capuchin is the northwestern half of Brazil and the Amazon basin. It is found in western Amazonia, and in the middle and lower Rio Amazonas and the Guianas. Its northern limit extends up to Venezuela as far as the Federal Territory of Amazonas and is limited by savannahs. The west of the tufted capuchin range extends into the Columbian Amazon and as far as the eastern foothills of the Andes mountain chain south into Peru. The southern limit in Brazil appears to be limited by the bush savannah of central Brazil. Eastern extremes of the range may extend past the Rio Xingu but there is some dispute as to the limits of the range (Rylands et al. 2005). The tufted capuchin has the largest range of all of the New World primates (Freese & Oppenheimer 1981).

Tufted capuchins were studied for over ten years at La Macarena, Colombia by Kosei Izawa starting in 1986 (Izawa 1988). Other prominent studies include those in Peru by Charles Janson.


The genus Cebus as a whole inhabits almost every type of forest in the neotropics. The same can be said about the tufted capuchin which can live in many different habitats as well (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981). It can live within a wide variety of wooded habitats and is regarded as being considerably adaptable. In Suriname, it lives in at least five different forest types, including high rain forest, low rain forest, mountain savanna forest, liane forest, and pina swamp forest (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981; see Zhang 1995a). In general, habitats in which tufted capuchins are found include rain forest, southern forest, mora forest, premontane forest, lower montane forest, wallaba forest, kanuku forest, southeast seasonal forest, swamp forest, and low seasonal forest (Lehman 2004). They are also found in a range of different edge habitats. Within different forest types, the monkeys typically remain within the understory and lower and middle canopy (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981).

Near the eastern end of the tufted capuchin range in French Guiana, the climate has an annual dry season from August to November and a long rainy season punctuated in February and March by a short dry spell. Annual precipitation averages 3000 mm (118.11 in) and temperatures range from 22.0°C (71.6°F) to 31.2°C (88.16°F) (Zhang 1995a). In the middle of the tufted capuchin range, near Manaus, Brazil in dense terra firma forest, mean average rainfall is 2,673 mm (105.24 in). This area exhibits a wet season from December to May and a dry season during the rest of the year. Temperatures can range from 21°C (69.8°F) to 33.5°C (92.3°F) at this locale (Spironello 2001). Near the western extreme of the tufted capuchin range in moist tropical forest in southeastern Peru, the dry season ranges from June to October and rainfall averages around 2000 mm (78.74 in) with an average temperature of 24.1°C (75.38°F) (Janson 1985).

The altitude at which tufted capuchins are found also can vary considerably with the species having been seen as high as 2350 m (7709.97 ft) in the Peruvian highlands (Butchart et al. 1995).


The omnivorous tufted capuchin is able to exploit a wide range of food resources, including many not used by other neotropical primates, a fact that permits its widespread distribution (Brown & Zunino 1990). As would be expected in such a large range, foods exploited by tufted capuchins vary widely with habitat as well as with the seasons. In general, the tufted capuchin diet contains fruits, insects, leaves, nectar, nuts, and pith, the relative proportions of which in the diet vary considerably with the seasons (Terborgh 1983; Spironello 2001). In Suriname, the tufted capuchin eats mainly insects and fruits supplemented by seeds, flowers, and leaves (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981). Elsewhere in Amazonia, the diet of the tufted capuchin was 82% plants and 18% animal matter. A larger number of different species of plant are used during the wet season than are used in the dry season (Spironello 2001). In the dry season, when food is often scarce, the tufted capuchin relies on palm nuts and pith for nourishment as this resource is readily available in an otherwise lean resource season. In the wet season however, the reliance on palm is curtailed as other food resources are available (Terborgh 1983). Animal prey of the tufted capuchin includes a large variety of insects in addition to vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and birds (Terborgh 1983). In addition to other vertebrates, the tufted capuchin is a confirmed predator of titi monkeys (Callicebus moloch) having been observed killing and consuming an infant (Sampaio & Ferrari 2005).

The main activity of tufted capuchins over the course of the daily activity period is feeding (Izawa 1980). On a daily basis, the diurnal tufted capuchin will divide its time into 12% rest, 21% travel and 66% feeding (Terborgh 1983). Time spent in different daily activities varies with the seasons and locality and foraging time can range between January and May from 2% of daily activity to 37.1%. Movement can range from 35.2% to 23.6% of time spent daily (Zhang 1995a). Tufted capuchins rest more and travel less with a greater availability of fruits and other food resources in the wet season. Tufted capuchin foraging for insects increases in the dry season, presumably due to the lack of available fruit resources (Terborgh 1983).

Cebus apella
Photo: Kevin Schafer

Tufted capuchins spend the night in tall trees, chosen for their security, comfort level, and appropriateness for social contact (Zhang 1995b). Sleeping trees must be tall to prevent access from terrestrial predators, they must be comfortable, and the leaves of the tree must be large enough for more than one individual to sleep side by side, although tufted capuchins will also sleep alone. In French Guiana, the preferred tree is the Patawa palm, but in other habitats any tree that is tall enough and appropriate enough will be used (Zhang 1995b). Typically the sleeping site will be located near the center of the group's home range but tends to be the appropriate site closest to where they were last foraging rather than a specific preferred site (Zhang 1995b; DiBitetti et al. 2000). The sleeping site changes frequently, but a single site can be reused (Zhang 1995b).

Average home range size of the tufted capuchin can reach as high as 8-9 km² (3.1-3.5 mi²) (Spironello 2001). Like other aspects of capuchin ecology however, this value can vary significantly with habitat, with some groups elsewhere having a home range of significantly smaller at around 2.6 km² (1 mi²) to1.25 km² (.48 mi²), and can be as low as to .5 km² to .7 km² (.19 to .27 mi²) (Izawa 1980; Terborgh & Janson 1983; Janson in prep. cited in Robinson & Janson 1986). Average daily path for a tufted capuchin is around 2.1 km (1.3 mi) (Janson in prep. cited in Robinson & Janson 1986).

Tufted capuchins usually live in sympatry with other primates and it is rare to find them as the only primate species in their habitats (Fragaszy et al. 2004). Examples of species which they live with include sakis (Pithecia sp.), spider monkeys (Ateles sp.), howler monkeys (Alouatta sp.), squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sp.), and tamarins (Saguinus sp.) (Fragaszy et al. 2004). In fact, the species occurs in over half of the primate communities in the neotropics (Peres & Janson 1999). Tufted capuchins can also be found living in the same habitat with both C. albifrons and C. olivaceous, a rare situation as it is uncommon for members of the same primate genus to live in the same habitat (Fragaszy et al. 2004).

The main predator of the tufted capuchin is the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), which has been seen attacking capuchins in several locales (Rettig 1978; Terborgh 1983; van Schaik & van Noordwijk 1989). Other potential predators include jaguars, pumas, jaguarundis, coyotes, tayras, snakes and crocodiles, although these are not confirmed (Fragaszy et al. 2004).

Wild tufted capuchins are capable of using tools to open up otherwise inaccessible fruits, the husks of which it cannot open in its teeth or jaws. It opens fruits by smashing them on tree surfaces or by using baton-like branch pieces to open the fruit. Immature tufted capuchins have been observed attempting to mimic the behavior of adults but they often fail (Boinski et al. 2000).

Content last modified: April 17, 2009

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Gary Linn.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2009 April 17. Primate Factsheets: Tufted capuchin (Cebus apella) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2020 July 6.