, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 269–272 | Cite as

Tool use in wild spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi)

  • Stacy M. LindshieldEmail author
  • Michelle A. Rodrigues
Short Communication


Tool use has been observed in a variety of primate species, including both New and Old World monkeys. However, such reports mainly address the most prodigious tool users and frequently limit discussions of tool-using behavior to a foraging framework. Here, we present observations of novel and spontaneous tool use in wild black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), where female spider monkeys used detached sticks in a self-directed manner. We introduce factors to explain Ateles tool-using abilities and limitations, and encourage the synthesis of relevant research in order to gain insight into the cognitive abilities of spider monkeys and the evolution of tool-using behaviors in primates.


Tool use Ateles geoffroyi Cognition 



We thank the Republic of Costa Rica for granting us permission to study and Hiner Ramirez for welcoming us to El Zota Biological Field Station. Jill Pruetz provided intellectual and logistical support, and Thomas LaDuke and Kimberly Dingess facilitated the research process. Thanks to Benjamin Beck, Dawn Kitchen, Janni Pedersen, Erik Otárola-Castillo, Kristina Walkup, Ellen Furlong, Matt Lattanzio and three anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. Several institutions generously contributed to our research: Animal Behavior Society, Department of Anthropology at Iowa State University, DANTA: Association for Conservation of the Tropics, and Sigma Xi.


  1. Amici F, Aureli F, Call J (2008) Fission–fusion dynamics, behavioral flexibility, and inhibitory control in primates. Curr Biol 18:1415–1419PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aureli F, Schaffner CM, Boesch C, Bearder SK, Call J, Chapman CA, Connor R, Di Fiore A, Dunbar RIM, Henzi SP, Holekamp K, Korstjens AH, Layton R, Lee P, Lehmann J, Manson JH, Ramos-Fernandez G, Strier KB, van Schaik CP (2008) Fission–fusion social dynamics. Curr Anthropol 49:627–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrett L, Henzi P, Dunbar R (2003) Primate cognition: from ‘what now?’ to ‘what if?’. Trends Cogn Sci 7:494–497PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bates LA, Byrne RW (2007) Creative or created: using anecdotes to investigate animal cognition. Methods 42:12–21PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck BB (1980) Animal tool behavior: the use and manufacture of tools by animals. Garland STPM, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Breuer T, Ndoundou-Hockemba M, Fishlock V (2005) First observation of tool use in wild gorillas. PLoS Biol 3:2041–2043CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell CJ (2000) Fur rubbing behavior in free-ranging black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) in Panama. Am J Primatol 51:205–208PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carpenter CR (1935) Behavior of red spider monkeys in Panama. J Mammal 16:71–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapman CA (1990) Association patterns of spider monkeys: the influence of ecology and sex on social organization. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 26:409–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapman CA, Chapman LJ (1990) Reproductive biology of captive and free-ranging spider monkeys. Zoo Biol 9:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deaner RO, van Schaik CP, Johnson V (2006) Do some taxa have better domain-general cognition than others? A meta-analysis of nonhuman primate studies. Evol Psychol 4:149–196Google Scholar
  12. Galdikas B (1982) An unusual instance of tool-use among wild orang-utans in Tanjung Puting Reserve, Indonesian Borneo. Primates 23:138–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goodall J (1970) Tool-using primates and other vertebrates. In: Lehrman DS, Hinde RA, Shaw E (eds) Advances in the study of behavior, vol 3. Academic, London, pp 195–249Google Scholar
  14. Hart BL, Hart LA, McCoy M, Sarath CR (2001) Cognitive behavior in Asian elephants: use and modification of branches for fly switching. Anim Behav 62:839–847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hohmann G, Fruth B (2003) Culture in bonobos? Between-species and within-species variation in behavior. Curr Anthropol 44:563–609CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holdridge LR, Grenke WC, Hatheway WH, Liang T, Tosi JA Jr (1971) Forest environments in tropical life zones: a pilot study. Pergamon, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Jerison HJ (1973) Evolution of the brain and intelligence. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Jouffroy FK (1993) Primate hands and the human hand: the tool of tools. In: Berthelet A, Chavaillon J (eds) The use of tools by human and non-human primates. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 6–33Google Scholar
  19. Kudo H, Dunbar RIM (2001) Neocortex size and social network size in primates. Anim Behav 62:711–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Laska M, Bauer V, Salazar LT (2007) Self-anointing behavior in free-ranging spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) in Mexico. Primates 48:160–163PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lupi O, Tyring SK, McGinnis MR (2005) Tropical dermatology: fungal tropical diseases. J Am Acad Dermatol 53:931–951PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McGrew WC (1992) Chimpanzee material culture. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Milton K (1981) Distribution patterns of tropical plant foods as an evolutionary stimulus to primate mental development. Am Anthropol 83:534–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Napier JR (1956) The prehensile movements of the human hand. J Bone Joint Surg 38:902–913Google Scholar
  25. Nishida T, Nakamura M (1993) Chimpanzee tool use to clear a blocked nasal passage. Folia Primatol 61:218–220PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Panger MA (1998) Object-use in free-ranging white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Costa Rica. Am J Phys Anthropol 106:311–321PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Panger MA (2007) Tool use and cognition in primates. In: Campbell CJ, Fuentes A, MacKinnon K, Panger M, Bearder SK (eds) Primates in perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 665–677Google Scholar
  28. Parker CE (1973) Manipulatory behavior and responsiveness. In: Rumbaugh DM (ed) Gibbon and siamang, vol 2. Karger, Basel, pp 185–207Google Scholar
  29. Pruetz JP, Bertolani P (2007) Savanna chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, hunt with tools. Curr Biol 17:412–417PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Russo SE, Campbell CJ, Dew JL, Stevenson PR, Suarez SA (2005) A multi-forest comparison of dietary preferences and seed dispersal by Ateles spp. Int J Primatol 26:1017–1037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sanford RL Jr, Paaby P, Luvall JC, Phillips E (1994) Climate, geomorphology and aquatic systems. In: McDade LA, Bawa KS, Hespenheide HA, Hartshorn GS (eds) La Selva: ecology and natural history of a neotropical rain forest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 19–33Google Scholar
  32. Sinha A (1997) Complex tool manufacture by a wild bonnet macaque, Macaca radiata. Folia Primatol 68:23–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stephan H, Baron G, Frahm HM (1988) Comparative size of brains and brain components. In: Steklis HD, Erwin J (eds) Comparative primate biology (Neurosciences, vol. 4). Alan R. Liss, Inc., New York, pp 1–38Google Scholar
  34. Stoinski TS, Beck B (2001) Spontaneous tool use in captive, free-ranging golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia). Primates 42:319–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Urbani B, Garber PA (2002) A stone in their hand… are monkeys tool users? Anthropologie 40:183–191Google Scholar
  36. Valderrama X, Robinson JG, Attygalle AB, Eisner T (2000) Seasonal anointment with millipedes in a wild primate: a chemical defense against insects? J Chem Ecol 26:2781–2790CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. van Schaik CP, Deaner RO, Merrill MY (1999) The conditions for tool use in primates: implications for the evolution of material culture. J Hum Evol 36:719–741PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Watanabe K, Nontakorn U, Malaivijitnond S (2007) Long-tailed macaques use human hair as dental floss. Am J Primatol 69:940–944PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Whiten A, Goodall J, McGrew WC, Nishida T, Reynolds V, Sugiyama Y, Tutin CEG, Wrangham RW, Boesch C (1999) Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature 399:682–685PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wolda H, Galindo P (1981) Population fluctuations of mosquitoes in the non-seasonal tropics. Ecol Entomol 6:99–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Ecology and Evolutionary Biology ProgramIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

Personalised recommendations