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Woolly monkey

Conservation status:

Life span: around 30 years
Total population: Unknown
Regions: Amazonia
Gestation: 7-7.5 months
Height: 49.8 cm (M), 49.2 cm (F)
Weight: L. lagotricha: 7.28 kg (M), 7.02 kg (F); L. cana: 9.49 kg (M), 7.65 kg (F)

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Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Atelidae
Subfamily: Atelinae
Genus: Lagothrix
Species: L. cana, L. lagotricha, L. lugens, L. poeppigii
Subspecies: L. cana cana, L. c. tschudii

Other names: L. cana: L. lagotricha cana, Geoffroy's Peruvian woolly monkey, Geoffroy's woolly monkey; L. c. cana: Geoffroy's woolly monkey; mono barrigudo (Spanish); L. c. tschudii: Peruvian woolly monkey; marimono del frio, mono barrigudo, mono rosillo (Spanish); L. lagotricha: L. lagothricha, common woolly monkey, Humboldt's woolly monkey, woolly monkey; Lagothriche de Humboldt, singe laineux (French); macaco barrigudo, mono barrigudo, mono caparro, mono lanudo, mono lanudo común (Spanish); grå ullapa, Humboldts ullapa (Swedish); L. lugens: L. lagotricha lugens, Colombian woolly monkey; mono barrigudo (Spanish); L. poeppigii; L. lagotricha poeppigii, Poeppig's woolly monkey, red woolly monkey, silvery woolly monkey; macaco barrigudo, mono barrigudo (Spanish).

The taxonomy of the genus Lagothrix is debated. Groves (2001; 2005) recognizes two subspecies of L. cana: L. c. cana and L. c. tschudii. In addition, Groves (2001; 2005) moved the Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) to its own genus Oreonax from Lagothrix, so it is not included here as a member of the genus. Some authors disagree with this taxonomic move (Rosenberger & Matthews 2008). Groves' arrangement is followed here but due to presumable similarities in ecology between the two genera, the reader is referred to the Oreonax factsheet. Finally, there remains a persistent disagreement about the proper spelling of the species L. lagotricha, which is also spelled L. lagothricha (Fooden 1963; Defler 2003). Here it will be spelled L. lagotricha, but this is not to imply that this spelling is more correct.


L. cana
L. cana
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo

Woolly monkeys are large muscular monkeys with prehensile tails and arms about as long as their legs (Ankel-Simons 2007; Napier & Napier 1967). The tail has a pad near its end on the distal side for grip and is as long as, or longer than, the head and body combined (Fooden 1963; Ankel-Simons 2007). They possess a pseudo-opposable thumb (Ramirez 1988). In general, woolly monkey species are distinguished from one another by coloration and appearance (Fooden 1963). As a genus, Lagothrix males have a head and body length of 49.8 cm (19.6 in) while females measure 49.2 cm (19.4 in) (Fooden 1963; Rosenberger & Strier 1989).

In terms of body mass, woolly monkeys are among the largest New World monkeys, the Atelines. While muriquis (Brachyteles sp.) are often considered to be the largest of the New World monkeys, some evidence indicates that woolly monkeys can weigh just as much (Peres 1994b). However, it is important to note that woolly monkeys undergo significant changes in body mass with the seasons (Peres 1993; 1994b). L. lagotricha males average 7.28 kg (16.0 lb) while females average 7.02 kg (15.5 lb) (Smith & Jungers 1997). L. cana males weigh on average 9.49 kg (20.9 lb) and one female weighed 7.65 kg (16.9 lb) (Peres 1994a). Some recorded averages may be on the low end of true weights however, and heavier (over 10 kg (22.0 lb)) individuals are known (Peres 1994b). Woolly monkeys exhibit sexual dimorphism by body mass and males are heavier than females (Ford & Davis 1992).

As their name implies, the fur is very thick and woolly. Males and females have the same coloration (Napier & Napier 1967). Generally, woolly monkeys are pale gray or brown overall to black (Fooden 1963). L. lagotricha is predominantly pale brown with a lighter head and darker grey extremities (Fooden 1963; Groves 2001). The belly has a black area down the middle of the ventrum (Groves 2001). L. cana have more gray in their coloration, with a dark gray head and brownish extremities and with some olive green in the torso (Fooden 1963; Groves 2001). The ventrum is black-gray with some dark red (Groves 2001). L. c. tschudii are darker than L. c. cana, and have black head, extremities and tail (Groves 2001). Coloration in L. lugens is variable, but generally are gray or silvery gray with a blackish ventrum and darker extremities (Fooden 1963; Groves 2001). Some specimens are more brownish-black and some are a somewhat lighter gray (Groves 2001). L. poeppigii coloration varies as well, but the species is typically reddish or reddish-brown, with a gray tinge and with reddish or dark brown head and extremities (Fooden 1963; Groves 2001).

L. poeppigii
L. peoppigii
Photo: Noga Shanee

Woolly monkeys use their prehensile tails extensively in locomotion. In particular, the tail secures the animal while it is climbing (Ankel-Simons 2007). At the Estación Biológica Caparú in eastern Colombia, five types of locomotion are used by L. lagotricha: quadrupedal walking and running, suspensory movement, climbing, leaping and rarely, bipedalism (Defler 1999). During travel, L. lagotricha use quadupedalism (41.8% of bouts), suspensory movement (8.6%), climbing (38.8%) and leaping (10.8%). During feeding, woolly monkeys use quadrupedalism (42.8% of the time), suspensory movement (7.0%), climbing (44.2%), and leaping (6.0%) (Defler 1999). Elsewhere, in northeastern Ecuador at the Yasuní National Park, L. lagotricha move through dropping and leaping (3.9%), bipedalism (0.2%), quadrupedalism (28.7%), ascending or descending (14.4%), clambering (30.1%), bridging and hoisting (10.2%), suspension (11.1%), and swaying (1.4%) (Cant et al. 2001). During suspensory movement, L. lagotricha use brachiation (58.7%), forelimb swinging (11.7%), pronograde swinging (20.2%), upside-down clambering (0.5%), upside-down quadrupedalism (1.2%) and will swing from their tails (7.8%) (Cant et al. 2003). Wild woolly monkeys are sometimes seen on the ground (Soini 1986).

In captivity, L. c. cana have lived over 29 years, L. lagotricha have lived over 30 years, L. lugens have lived 30 years, and L. poeppigii have lived 24 years (Mooney & Lee 1999; Weigl 2005). Individuals estimated at over 30 years old are recorded in wild populations (L. lagotricha) (Nishimura 2003).


Lagothrix cana | Lagothrix cana cana | Lagothrix cana tschudii | Lagothrix lagotricha | Lagothrix lugens | Lagothrix poeppigii

Woolly monkeys are found in Amazonian South America, inhabiting Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (Fooden 1963; Ramirez 1988; Wallace & Painter 1999). According to Bodini & Péres-Hernàndez (1987) it stands to reason that woolly monkeys should be found in Venezuela, and Hernández-Camacho & Cooper (1976) report L. lugens from Venezuela near the Colombian border. The distribution of the genus extends from the Rio Negro and the Rio Tapajós in Brazil west throughout the upper Amazon basin (Defler 2004; Emmons 1997).

Among the individual species, distributions are generally not well defined (Aquino & Encarnación 1994). L. lagotricha are found in northwestern Brazil, southeastern Colombia, northeastern Ecuador and northeastern Peru. They range north of the Amazon River west of the Orinoco and Negro rivers, to the eastern slopes of the Andes, and south as far as the Aguarico and Napo Rivers (Fooden 1963; Aquino & Encarnación 1994). Within Colombia, they extend as far north as the Guaviare River and meet the southern populations of L. lugens roughly where piedmont forest meets lowland rainforest in the region (Hernández-Camacho & Cooper 1976). L. cana are the southeastern-most of the woolly monkey species. They range from southwestern Brazil from their easternmost occurrence at the Tapajós River, extending west to the Juruá River, and into southeastern Peru (in the Ucayali, Pasco and Junín Departments) from the Alto Purus River to Bolivia (Fooden 1963; Aquino & Encarnación 1994; Iwanaga & Ferrari 2002). A population of L. cana is recently reported from Bolivia, in the Madidi National Park (Wallace & Painter 1999).

L. lagotricha
L. lagotricha
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo

L. poeppigii is found in western Brazil, eastern Ecuador and in northeastern Peru (; Fooden 1963). Specifically, they are found south and east of the Amazon and Napo Rivers, east of the Andes, north of the Marañón River and south of the Marañón River, west to the Huallaga River, continuing south to the Aguaytia and Pachitea Rivers (; Aquino & Encarnación 1994). L. lugens are found in Colombia and are reported from Venezuela, near the Colombian border (; Fooden 1963; Hernández-Camacho & Cooper 1976). Within Colombia, the species extends as far north as the Guaviare River with isolated populations in the Córdoba Department and in the southeastern Bolívar Department in the northwest of the country (Hernández-Camacho & Cooper 1976; Defler 2004). L. lugens extend to near the Venezuelan border east of the Cordillera Oriental (Defler 2004). In the east, L. lugens meets the distribution of L. lagotricha along the lower Guayabero River (Hernández-Camacho & Cooper 1976).


Woolly monkeys inhabit a number of habitat types, including tropical lowland rainforest, terra firme rainforest, old-levee forest, cloud forest, low-ground forest, seasonally flooded forest, hilly forest, terrace forest, transition forest, igapó forest, creekside lowland forest and palm swamps (Kavanagh & Dresdale 1975; Soini 1986; Peres 1994a; Defler 1996a; Peres 1996; Bennett et al. 2001; Cant et al. 2001; Stevenson 2006). They prefer primary forest (Soini 1986; Stevenson 2006).

L. lugens is found up to 3000 meters (9842.5 ft) above sea level (Defler 1996b).

At a study site at Tinigua National Park, Colombia, woolly monkeys (L. lagotricha) use tropical lowland forests, including mature forest (79%), open-degraded forest (8%), flooded forest (10%), and secondary forest (4%) (Stevenson 2006). At this study site, rainfall is very seasonal, with a pronounced dry season between December and March and an average rainfall of 278.2 cm (109.5 in) during the rainy remainder of the year (Stevenson 1998; Stevenson et al. 2000; Stevenson 2006). Elsewhere, along the upper Urucu River, in Brazil at a study site of L. cana, rainfall averaged 302.8 cm (119.2 in) with a dry season between July and September (Peres 1994a; 1996).


Woolly monkeys are mostly frugivorous over the course of the year (Defler & Defler 1996; Iwanaga & Ferrari 2001; Di Fiore 2004; Stevenson 2006). Generally, western populations of woolly monkeys spend more time foraging for live prey than other populations (Di Fiore & Rodman 2001). In Tinigua National Park, Colombia, L. lugens ate ripe fruits (53%), unripe fruit and seeds (6%), flowers (2%), arthropods (25%) and other foods (1%) (Stevenson 2006). Insects, spiders, termites, vertebrates, and beehives are also consumed at this locality (Stevenson 1992). At the Yasuní National Park, Ecuador, overall yearly diet of L. poeppigii included fruit (76.7%), flowers (3.5%), leaves (7.4%), other plants (2.4%), fungi (0.2%) and animal prey (9.3%) (Di Fiore 2004). At this study site, over 200 species of plant are consumed, but 46 species make up over half of the diet (Di Fiore 2004). In southeastern Colombia, L. lagotricha eat fleshy fruits (78.9%), seeds (4.3%), leaves (11.4%), invertebrates (4.9%), flowers (0.1%), tendrils (0.1%) and bark (0.3%) (Defler & Defler 1996). Frogs were also caught and consumed (Defler & Defler 1996).

L. lugens
L. lugens
Photo: Noga Shanee

Along the Urucu River, Brazil, L. cana ate nearly exclusively plant material (99.9%) of over 200 species, with very small numbers of arthropods, including katydids and spiders (Peres 1994a). At this site, plant foods consumed included fruits (80.7%), flowers and nectar (3.1%), and leaves (16.2%) (Peres 1994a). While fruit is annually extremely important in the diet, during the dry season, such foods may fall to very small percentages of what is eaten, replaced by foliage, seeds, and exudates (Peres 1994a). Flowers are also consumed as an alternative to fruit in the dry season (Peres 1994a). Elsewhere, in the state of Rondônia, Brazil, 91.5% of the L. cana diet was fruit (Iwanaga & Ferrari 2001).

In southeastern Colombia, over 90% of the fruits eaten by L. lagotricha are evolutionarily adapted for dispersal by fruit-eating species (Defler & Defler 1996). This means that the plants rely on their seeds being carried in the digestive tracts of consumers and evacuated elsewhere. In fact, woolly monkeys are important and high-quality seed dispersers (Stevenson 2000).

Averaged annually, L. poeppigii spend their days eating (19.0%), foraging (17.2%), moving (34.5%), resting (23.25%), in social activity (4.7%), and in other activities (1.4%) (Di Fiore & Rodman 2001). In eastern Colombia, L. lagotricha spend their days resting (29.9%), moving (38.8%), foraging (25.8%), and in other activities (5.5%) (Defler 1995). In southeastern Colombia, L. lagotricha spent their days moving (26%), resting (35%), feeding (35%) and in social interactions (3%) (Stevenson 2006). Seasonally, moving and social interactions decrease during fruit shortage (September to December) while resting increases during that time (Stevenson et al. 1994; Stevenson 2006). With seasonal food availability, the time spend feeding does not change, although the foods do, with the species eating more unripe fruits, leaves, and flowers during times of fruit shortage (Stevenson 2006).

Daily, resting peaks around the middle of the day (Defler 1995).

Recorded woolly monkey group home ranges include 1.08-over 4.0 km² (0.42-over 1.42 mi²) (L. poeppigii), 1.69 km² (0.65 mi²) (L. lugens), 2.0-11.0 km² (0.77-4.25 mi²) (L. lagotricha), and over 10.21 km² (3.94 mi²) (L. cana) (reviewed in Di Fiore 2003; Stevenson 2006). Home ranges can overlap extensively, and exclusive areas are not defended from other groups although specific resources can be on a temporary basis (Kavanagh & Dresdale 1975; Stevenson et al. 1994; Di Fiore 2003). Average day ranges are 540-1878 m (1771.7-6161.4 ft) (L. poeppigii), 1633 m (5357.6 ft) (L. lugens) and 2280 (7480.3 ft) (L. lagotricha) (review in Di Fiore 2003). In L. poeppigii, during periods of fruit scarcity, day range does not increase (Di Fiore 2003).

Sleeping sites are found throughout the home range and many are used (Stevenson 2006). These consist of several trees around 25-35 m (82.0 ft-114.8 ft) tall, near to one another (Defler 2004).

Woolly monkeys are large. Because of their size, they may only be exposed to low levels of predation (Stevenson & Castellanos 2000). Nevertheless, eagles are said to be possible predators of woolly monkeys and smaller non-adult individuals do disappear from groups (Ramirez 1988; Defler 2004).

Due to their widespread occurrence, woolly monkeys can be found with a number of other primate species. For example, at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru, L. lagotricha is found along with pygmy marmosets (Cebuella pygmaea), saddle-back tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis), owl monkeys (Aotus nancymai), squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis), white-fronted capuchins (Cebus albifrons), brown capuchins (Cebus apella), saki monkeys (Pithecia hirsute), black spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus), and red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) (Soini 1986). L. poeppigii are sometimes found feeding and travelling with howler monkeys (Alouatta sp.) and travelling and foraging with spider monkeys (Ateles sp.) and squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sp.) (Marsh 2004).

Woolly monkeys (L. poeppigii) are also sometimes followed by double-tooth kites (Harpagus bidentatus), a bird that feeds on insects that are stirred up by the activities of woolly monkeys (Marsh 2004). Also, L. lagotricha feces are particularly important to dung beetles of the family Scarabaeidae (Castellanos et al. 1999).

Content last modified: September 30, 2010

Written by Kurt Gron.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2010 September 30. Primate Factsheets: Woolly monkey (Lagothrix) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2020 April 4.