The White-headed capuchins are easily recognizable primates, belonging to the group of New World monkeys. These animals are endemic to Central America and northern parts of South America. These are medium sized monkeys, found in jungles. The White-headed capuchins are among the most intelligent monkeys around the globe. They are closely associated with humans. They are traditionally kept by organ grinders. Additionally, these primates are known to help paraplegic people.
The natural range of this species covers the Neotropical Region of Central America as well as the northwestern tip of South America, including Argentina. Ideal habitat for this species is tropical evergreens and dry deciduous forest. They are known to favor areas with high humidity and drained lowlands. These animals may occur in a wide range of environments such as wet, dry, primary and secondary forests, volcanic foothills and coastal plains.
White-headed capuchins form social units of 18 - 20 animals, consisting of multiple individuals of both genders. Young individuals learn important skills by observing behavior and habits of adults. Upon reaching maturity at about 4 years old, young males disperse to join another group. Females, on the other hand, tend to live with their natal group throughout their lives. These animals lead diurnal lifestyle, being active by day and sleeping by night. Individuals both in captivity and in the wild display very active and playful behavior. Due to their curious nature, the favorite activity of these animals is taking things apart. All members of a community participate in social play. Juveniles typically spend the majority of their time playing and wrestling.
White-headed capuchins are opportunistic feeders and maintain omnivorous diet, which mean that they eat food of both plant and animal origin. Typical types of food are fruits, nuts, invertebrates (e.g. insects) as well as small vertebrates such as squirrels, tree rats, lizards and birds.
White-headed capuchins exhibit polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system, where individuals of both genders have numerous mates. Dominant males usually have more mating opportunities, which is explained by a dominance hierarchy. Although these primates may breed at any time of the year, females generally produce offspring in December-April, once every two years. A single infant is born after 5 - 6 months of gestation. During the first 6 weeks of its life, the baby rides on the back of its mother. By 4 - 5 weeks old, it begins to venture from its mother for very short periods of time. And finally, the young capuchin is able to move on its own after 3 months old. The infant is completely weaned at 6 - 12 months old. Males of this species are ready to mate at 7 - 10 years old, whereas females are considered reproductively mature at 4 years old, though begin producing offspring only at 7 years old.
Although the White-headed capuchins are abundant and commonly found throughout their range, these animals are still affected by factors such as hunting for their meat as well as degradation and deforestation of their natural habitat.
According to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens resource, the total population of the White-headed capuchins has declined 43% in the past 12 years from 95,000 (estimated in 1995) to 54,000 (data from 2007). Currently, the White-headed capuchin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, although its numbers are decreasing.
By feeding upon fruits and nuts, these primates act as important seed dispersers of their range, thus contributing to regeneration of the forest.