Monkey Spotlight: Black Howler

By Phoebe Li

Howler Monkey Baby at the L.A. Zoo (Photo by Jamie Pham)
In Chinese astrology, there are 12 animal zodiac signs, cycled over 12 years—the monkey is the ninth. Each year coincides with one of five elements: gold (metal), water, wood, fire, and earth. Both the sign and element of a person’s birth year are said to indicate his or her personality. According to the lunar calendar, 2016 is the year of the fire monkey.

It is believed that fire monkeys are little rascals who enjoy utilizing everything to their advantage. Similarly, black howler monkeys are an adaptable species. While they prefer tall, aged forests, they acclimate well to a variety of forest habitats. Originally from South America, these New World primates can now be found throughout Central and South America, as well as some local islands.

True to its name—and true to the nature of the expressive Chinese zodiac monkey—the black howler is a howler! In fact, it’s the loudest land animal. Males tend to do most of the roaring, and their sound can carry for miles. This communication informs other howler troops of their location so they avoid overlapping territories.

These resourceful monkeys are impressive climbers, utilizing their arms, legs, and tails to climb. With a body length of around 24 inches and an average tail length of 20-24 inches, the massive tail of the howler is prehensile, meaning it is used for grasping.

At first glance, observers may mistake a group of black howler monkeys to be two different species. This is due to the different coat colors between sexes, but don’t be fooled. Adult males are black, while adult females and juveniles are a golden-tan color, making them seem like a different species.

Curious L.A. Zoo visitors can indulge their inner monkey by visiting the black howlers, including the baby, at Rainforest of the Americas—with any luck, they may even howl.