The Taxonomy and Distribution of Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri)

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Abstract

Squirrel monkeys of the genus Saimiri are a distinct group of New World primates. They are easily recognized visually or by their vocalizations. Anatomically they have a number of peculiarities, such as an interorbital fenestra, a double brachioradialis muscle in the arm, and a prominent articulation between the calcaneus and navicular bones of the foot. These specializations suggest that squirrel monkeys have a long evolutionary history independent of other primates. This hypothesis is strengthened by the dearth of derived features shared with other New World primates. The search for the closest living relative of Saimiri (its sister group) has not led to convincing conclusions. Saimiri is commonly placed in the same subfamily with Cebus, as in the classifications of Pocock (1925), Simpson (1945), von Pusch (1942), and Rosenberger (1981). But Hershkovitz strongly dissents, and this classification is not in agreement with Ford’s analysis of the postcranial skeleton. Ford (1980) would link Saimiri more closely with Callicebus and Aotus. Hershkovitz (1977) separates it from all other cebids at the subfamily level. I presently adopt the same classification of Saimiri, as the sole member of the subfamily Saimirinae, but mine is a position of agnosticism. I am not convinced by any of the arguments to the contrary.