The Big Picture: Tijuca National Park and the matriarchal monkey society found in its trees.

The Tijuca National Park is a vast forested area in the vicinity of Rio de Janeiro that is home to some of the city’s most emblematic sights, including Mount Corcovado and the Christ statue.

The park also offers plenty of opportunity to explore its wilderness by means of a vast range of activities, including hiking and waterfalls.

The park is rich in biodiversity and is home to hundreds of different species of animals, many that are unique to the area and are facing extinction. Some of the wildlife you can see along the way include butterflies, birds, lizards and monkeys.

The squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus) is a small primate native to South and Central America and can be found in and around the park. It is characterized by their small size, with a body length of about 25-35 cm (10-14 inches) and a tail length of around 35-42 cm (14-17 inches). They have a distinctive appearance, with olive or yellowish fur on their upper body and limbs, and white fur on their face, throat, and ears.

These monkeys are arboreal, which means they live primarily in trees, and are known for their agility and quick movements. They are diurnal creatures, which means they are active during the day.

Squirrel monkeys are omnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of foods, including fruits, insects, small vertebrates, and even bird eggs.

They are social animals and live in large groups called troops, which can range from a few dozen to over 100 individuals. These troops are organized hierarchically, with females dominating the group.

Squirrel monkey troops are matriarchal, meaning that females are dominant and hold higher social positions within the group. Female squirrel monkeys establish a stable social hierarchy, while the males have a more fluid ranking system that changes frequently, especially during the mating season.

In squirrel monkey societies, females generally maintain their social positions throughout their lives, with offspring inheriting the status of their mothers. High-ranking females tend to have better access to resources, such as food and preferred resting sites, which can lead to better overall health and reproductive success.

Males, on the other hand, often leave their natal groups to join new troops, which helps to prevent inbreeding. Upon joining a new group, they must establish their position within the male hierarchy, which can be highly competitive and involves displays of aggression and submission. The male hierarchy is subject to change, and males may change rank more frequently than females.

IMAGE CREDIT: Alexandra Maria Estrella; Ernst Vikne

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