International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 799–808 | Cite as

Do Adult Male Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) Preferentially Handle Male Infants?

  • Kayley J. E. Evans
  • Mary S. M. Pavelka
  • Kayla S. Hartwell
  • Hugh Notman


Infant tolerance by adult males has been observed in many primate species with multimale–multifemale mating systems, but males do not usually initiate interactions with infants. In male philopatric species, such as spider monkeys, adult males within a community exhibit high levels of cooperation and affiliation, and they might therefore be motivated to create bonds with potential future allies. Based on this hypothesis we predicted that adult male spider monkeys would participate in infant handling more than adult females and they would preferentially direct handling toward male infants. Between January 2008 and July 2010, we collected 884 h of observation on a community of wild spider monkeys at Runaway Creek Nature Reserve in Belize. During this period we observed 120 incidences of affiliative interactions between infants and adults other than their mother. The adult initiated the majority of nonmother adult–infant interactions (78 %). All available infants (5 males, 7 females) were handled during the study. All 9 of the community adult males handled infants but only 7 of 14 adult females did so. Adult males handled infants significantly more often than did adult females and males also handled young infants more often than older infants. Significant infant sex differences in handling appeared in infants >6 mo when adult males handled males significantly more than females. The patterns of infant handling among age–sex class dyads reflect the affiliative social patterns that we see in adult spider monkeys. These results provide support for the hypothesis that adult males preferentially handle male infants as a strategy for fostering social bonds.


Ateles geoffroyi Infant handling Male bonding Natal attraction 



We thank Birds without Borders, the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, and Dr. Gil and Lillian Boese for their continued support and permission to access Runaway Creek Nature Reserve. Brittany Dean, Patrick Rodrigues, and Stevan Reneau provided invaluable assistance in collecting data for this project. We also thank several anonymous reviewers as well as Executive Editor Joanna Setchell for helpful feedback and considerable patience as we worked through statistical problems with earlier drafts of the article. This process significantly improved the analyses and presentation of these data. Dr. Tak Fung from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at University of Calgary provided ongoing statistical (and moral) support. We received funding from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the University of Calgary, and Athabasca University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kayley J. E. Evans
    • 1
  • Mary S. M. Pavelka
    • 1
  • Kayla S. Hartwell
    • 1
  • Hugh Notman
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyAthabasca UniversityAthabascaCanada

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