The loudest primate in the world: meet the black howler monkey

Black howler monkey sitting on a tree in Belize jungle

The black howler monkey, also known as Alouatta Caraya, belongs to the group of New World Monkeys. They are the largest monkeys in the exotic and beautiful forests of Latin America. If you ever hear a frightening howl in the jungles of Argentina, Bolivia, or Brazil, don‘t worry, it‘s just these guys making territorial calls. They are actually quite friendly and calm in their behavior, despite their shrieks, which can sometimes feel like they shake the foundations of the earth!

With vocal cords capable of echoing up to five kilometers, it’s natural the monkeys were named after their powerful howling, which is usually heard before sunrise. Their roar is so loud, so strong, and so powerful, it’s been said to wake up the sun itself! The purpose of their howls is to announce their positions to other monkey groups as to avoid conflict. Besides their distinctively dominant roar, black howler monkeys are known for sleeping up to 70% of the day.

So, what fuels that striking howl? Apparently, it is a simple and humble vegetarian diet! Black howler monkeys primarily enjoy a folivorous (leaf-based) diet, but they also eat flowers, buds, and fruits. Since almost 100% of their nutritional needs are met up in the trees, they rarely come down to ground level. Since they also receive water from fruits, they don’t need to travel far, and usually move less than 400 meters a day.

Black Howler monkey family

The primary environmental threats to the black howler monkeys are similar to those facing other animals who depend on trees and lush thriving forests: agricultural overdevelopment and deforestation. Even though they are listed as a "least concern" for extinction, the population of black howler monkeys continues to decline, as they continue to be hunted for their meat and fur.

While actual population numbers are not available, howler monkeys are spread across South American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. They are social animals and live together in groups of up to 19 members! One of their strongest traits is their prehensile tail without hair on the bottom side. The tail’s grip strength gives the monkeys great versatility in movement and protects them from falling from high tree branches. Other important characteristics include the sexual dimorphism: males sport a black coat while females have a bright blond coat. Their average lifespan is around 15 years, although they can live up to 20 years.

Did you know?

  • Young males are not allowed to handle infants because they can mistreat or even kill them.

  • Howler monkeys emit the loudest call of all primates in the world because of their special, egg-shaped hyoid bone.

  • Females practice allomothering, where other females protect, carry, and groom infants other than their own.

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