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Random Week: Red-handed Howler Monkey (Alouatta belzebul)

Posted on Jul 26, 2012 by in Primates, Theme Weeks | 7 comments

alouatta_belzebul

Number 0414

Here’s our last randomly picked mammal for now: tomorrow the Mammal Olympiad starts! Let’s let this red-handed howler monkey see us out of Random Week. The red-handed howler lives in Brazil. Among howler monkeys, it isn’t very well studied, by which I mean that humans haven’t studied it very well, not that it isn’t learned or educated. It eats leaves (because it’s folivorous!), and it has a few traits that I think would come in handy: a prehensile tail, a schizodactylous grip (which means that it has two digits opposing the other three, unlike our hands, which have just the opposable thumb), and what the IUCN’s description characterizes as an “enlarged and highly specialized voice box” for letting loose howls and grunts. Animal Diversity Web says, “Red-handed howler monkeys males often howl, allowing them to assess their opponents, a cheap alternative to a physical fight or chase.”

The IUCN lists the red-handed howler monkeys as vulnerable: their population has been declining because of hunting and habitat loss. The habitat loss is a result of agriculture and logging. Here’s another interesting quote from the Animal Diversity Web account of the red-handed howler monkey:

“In 1999 at the Twenty-Second Annual Meeting of the American Society of Primatologists, Loretta Ann Cormier discussed her work on red-handed howler monkeys. She found that they are significant to the diet, religion, and social structure of indigenous peoples. Red-handed howler monkeys and 6 other species of primates found in Amazonian Brazil are primarily eaten during the wet season. The Guajá believe all monkeys are kin, and they always take in infants of mothers that were killed for food and treat them as their children. Some people feel there is a contradiction between family and food, but the religion of the Guajá people portrays this symbolic cannibalism as a religious way of life.”

7 Comments

  1. I love this drawing! It is beautiful.

  2. Wonderful portrait, Jennifer. And a very nice write-up.

    I wonder if a schizodactylous grip would be an improvement over the single opposable thumb our hand has now. Would we be able to manipulate tools even better? Handle a pen or a knife or a screwdriver with more dexterity? Or would be be more than we need?

  3. Thanks, Grace! You know, Ted…I have no idea! Typing might be harder, though. I mostly just like the word schizodactylous. I love these biology adjectives like folivorous, myrmecophagous, schizodactylous, scansorial, crepuscular…

  4. Gotta love those red handed howlers!

  5. Hee, not well studied.

    That is one of the oddest and most interesting Latin names I’ve seen for a while. Do you know where it comes from/what it means?

    • Julia, I’m not surprised I at least amused you with my “not well studied” line. I’m glad to see you here again! I think the Alouatta part comes from the french word alouate, which seems to mean howler. But I have no idea about the belzebul. It certainly seems like it could be related to Beelzebub; maybe something about the red hands? I do have a copy of Mammals: Their Latin Names Explained on order. I hope this one will be in there. I didn’t find anything with a quick Web search, and I was wondering too.

    • Okay, it is in Mammals: Their Latin Names Explained! For Alouatta, it just says “derived from the French alouate.” I’m not clear on whether alouate means howler or howler monkey. For belzebul, it says, “another spelling of Beelzebub, god of flies, from the Hebrew baal, a lord, and zeebub, a fly; suggesting black, evil, an allusion to the rather ugly face.” Poor monkey!

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