written by Chris Hirsh, a volunteer field assistant on the project
White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus) are widely accepted as some of the most intelligent monkeys in the entire New World. Personally there is no doubt in my mind that these monkeys are much more intelligent than we give them credit. There wasn’t a day that went by, during the year that I spent in Lomas, that I wasn’t impressed by their inventiveness and problem solving abilities. Whether it was navigating complex social hierarchies or foraging dangerous prey, the variation of solutions among individuals, to these common challenges, suggests an impressive level of cognitive reasoning. This fact was never as evident to me as it was while working with the Musketeers group during wasp breeding season.
I don’t know which monkey originated the unique tail foraging behavior in the Musketeers group, but it would be absolutely fascinating to see if and how it spreads to other monkeys. Will the other monkeys be able to recognize the superiority of this novel behavior and adopt it, or will they stick with their tried and true method of hand foraging? Which method will the juveniles try as they learn how to forage on the dangerous prey? If Waldo migrates again, will other groups learn and adopt this technique from him? Tail foraging versus hand foraging is one of many behaviors that can be studied to gain insights into how novel behaviors arise and spread in non-human primate species, and provides great fodder for the non-human culture debate. It is also only one of the many fascinating and inspiring observations I made while working with the incredible capuchin monkeys of the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project’s study population.