, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 173–181 | Cite as

Male-directed infanticide in spider monkeys (Ateles spp.)

  • Sara Alvarez
  • Anthony Di Fiore
  • Jane Champion
  • Mary Susan Pavelka
  • Johanna Páez
  • Andrés Link
Original Article


Infanticide is considered a conspicuous expression of sexual conflict amongst mammals, including at least 35 primate species. Here we describe two suspected and one attempted case of intragroup infanticide in spider monkeys that augment five prior cases of observed or suspected infanticide in this genus. Contrary to the typical pattern of infanticide seen in most primate societies, where infants are killed by conspecifics independent of their sex, all eight cases of observed or suspected infanticide in spider monkeys have been directed toward male infants within their first weeks of life. Moreover, although data are still scant, infanticides seem to be perpetrated exclusively by adult males against infants from their own social groups and are not associated with male takeovers or a sudden rise in male dominance rank. Although the slow reproductive cycles of spider monkeys might favor the presence of infanticide because of the potential to shorten females’ interbirth intervals, infanticide is nonetheless uncommon among spider monkeys, and patterns of male-directed infanticide are not yet understood. We suggest that given the potentially close genetic relationships among adult males within spider monkey groups, and the need for males to cooperate with one another in territorial interactions with other groups of related males, infanticide may be expected to occur primarily where the level of intragroup competition among males outweighs that of competition between social groups. Finally, we suggest that infanticide in spider monkeys may be more prevalent than previously thought, given that it may be difficult for observers to witness cases of infanticide or suspected infanticide that occur soon after birth in taxa that are characterized by high levels of fission–fusion dynamics. Early, undetected, male-biased infanticide could influence the composition of spider monkey groups and contribute to the female-biased adult sex ratios often reported for this genus.


Male sexual strategies Primates Intersexual conflict Aggression Spider monkeys 



The authors are very grateful to the Ecuadorian, Colombian, and Belizean governments and their Ministerios de Ambiente for permission to work at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, San Juan de Carare, and Runaway Creek Nature Reserve sites, respectively. The authors also thank (1) the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and the dedicated TBS field staff who have provided invaluable scientific and logistical support in Ecuador, (2) the Lalinde and de Greiff families who have allowed us to work at SJ for the past 6 years, and (3) Dr. Gil and Lilian Boese from the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation for permission to work at RCNR, and Birds Without Borders/Aves Sin Fronteras and the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center for ongoing support. The authors also especially thank Ana Palma, Laura Abondano, Liz Diaz, and Norma Lopez for valuable help in the field, and John Mitani and two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation of the United States of America (Grant BCS1062540), the National Geographic Society (CRE Grant 8785-10), Becas de Diversidad de Ecopetrol, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, New York University, and the University of Calgary.

Ethical statement

This research complied with protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care Committee of the University of Texas at Austin, adhered to the legal requirements of Ecuador, Colombia, and Belize and adhered to the Primate Society of Japan's Principles for the Ethical Treatment of Non-Human Primates.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Alvarez
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anthony Di Fiore
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jane Champion
    • 4
  • Mary Susan Pavelka
    • 4
  • Johanna Páez
    • 1
    • 5
  • Andrés Link
    • 1
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Proyecto PrimatesBogotáColombia
  2. 2.Grupo UCM de Estudio del Comportamiento Animal y Humano, Departamento de PsicobiologíaUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TexasAustinUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  5. 5.Departamento de Ciencias BiológicasUniversidad de Los AndesBogotáColombia
  6. 6.Facultad de AdministraciónUniversidad de Los AndesBogotáColombia

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