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The squirrel monkeys New World monkeys of the genus Saimiri. They are the only genus in the subfamily Saimirinae. The name of the genus Saimiri is of Tupi origin (sai-mirim or gai-mbirin < sai 'monkey' and mirim 'small'), and was also used as an English name by early researchers.
Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America in the canopy layer. Most species have parapatric or allopatric ranges in the Amazon, while S. oerstedii is found disjunctly in Costa Rica and Panama.
Squirrel monkey fur is short and close, colored olive at the shoulders and yellowish orange on its back and extremities. Their throat and the ears are white and their mouths are black. The upper part of their head is hairy. This black-and-white face gives them the name "death's head monkey" in several Germanic languages (e.g., German Totenkopfaffen, Swedish dödskalleapor, Dutch doodshoofdaapjes) and Slovenian (smrtoglavka).
Squirrel monkeys grow to 25 to 35 cm, plus a 35 to 42 cm tail. Male squirrel monkeys weigh 750 to 1100 g. Females weigh 500 to 750 g.
Female squirrel monkeys have a pseudo-penis that they use to display dominance over smaller monkeys, in much the same way the male squirrel monkeys display their dominance.
Like most of their New World monkey relatives, squirrel monkeys are diurnal and arboreal. Unlike the other New World monkeys, their tail is not used for climbing, but as a kind of "balancing pole" and also as a tool. Their movements in the branches can be very rapid.
They live together in multi-male/multi-female groups with up to 500 members. These large groups can, however occasionally break into smaller troops. They have a number of vocal calls, including warning sounds to protect themselves from large falcons, which are a natural threat to them. Their small body size also makes them susceptible to predators such as snakes and felids. For marking territory, squirrel monkeys rub their tail and their skin with their own urine.
Squirrel monkeys are omnivores, eating primarily fruits and insects. Occasionally they also eat seeds, leaves, flowers, buds, nuts, eggs and small vertebrates.