When you think of monkeys, you may think of the zoo or the jungles of Asia and Africa. You might be surprised to learn that there are a few species of monkeys that have established populations in Florida. While not native to the area, some have been introduced by humans and thrived. This article will discuss two wild monkeys that have established populations in Florida and one species that once existed in the state, but their populations have dwindled significantly.
3 Types of Wild Monkeys in Florida
Monkeys are not native to Florida, but due to human actions, a few species have started calling Florida home. The current species of monkeys that have established populations in Florida are the rhesus macaque and the vervet monkey. Squirrel monkeys used to have populations in the state but are no longer established.
1. Rhesus Macaque
Scientific Name: Macaca mulatta
The rhesus macaque is an Old World Monkey species that is a member of the family Cercopithecidae. They are native to south and southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China.
These medium-sized monkeys are usually between 17.75 and 25 inches long from head to the base of their tail, with tails measuring between 7.5 and 12.5 inches. They usually weigh between 8.75 and 26.5 pounds, with males being bigger than females.
The average lifespan of this species in the wild is around four years. The rhesus macaque has a distinctive appearance, with pink faces, long tails, and a short, thick brown or gray coat.
This species lives in large troops of up to 200 animals. These troops are very active and noisy and are led by females. While males are the dominant sex, they don’t stick around with the same troop, so the troops are led by females.
These troops have complex hierarchies, and the members communicate with each other using a range of vocalizations, facial expressions, and body language. This monkey is omnivorous, and its diet consists of fruits, seeds, leaves, flowers, insects, small animals, and insects.
The rhesus macaque was introduced to Florida in 1938. “Colonel Tooey,” a tour boat operator, decided to release six rhesus macaques on a small island in Central Florida inside what is now known as Silver Spring State Park. He got the monkeys from a primate dealer in New York City in hopes of creating a jungle-like attraction on the island.
Rhesus macaque in Florida
The thing is, rhesus macaques are really good swimmers, so they didn’t stay confined to the island for long. Once those six monkeys escaped the island, Tooey purchased six more to replace them.
They escaped as well. These intelligent animals can adapt to a variety of habitats, so it’s no surprise that they adapted to life in Florida and began to reproduce.
By the 1980s, hundreds of these monkeys had spread across the park. Wildlife officials attempted to control this growing population between 1984 and 2012, removing over 1000 monkeys and sterilizing twenty females. These efforts stopped in 2012 because of public outcry.
Today, their populations are still growing around 11% every year. For now, the rhesus macaque is only established inside Silver Spring State Park, but experts warn that they could easily spread to other parts of the state.
2. Vervet Monkey
Scientific Name: Chlorocebus sabaeus
Vervet monkeys are native to sub-Saharan Africa and are the most widespread species of monkey in the area. They have black faces, hands, and feet, with a yellow to greenish-brown coat of hair.
Since they often have a greenish tint to them, people sometimes refer to them as green monkeys. They have white fur on the eyebrows and cheeks. These monkeys also have blue-tinted skin on their abdomens. This blue skin is more prominent in males.
Like the rhesus macaque, vervet monkeys travel in groups called troops. They use vocalizations and body language to communicate with other members of their troops.
One interesting way they communicate is by using their eyelids. Their eyelids are lighter in color than their black faces, so they will lower their lids to flash the light coloring as a warning to others.
These troops are very close-knit, and the members will groom each other, picking insects and dirt off each other as a form of bonding.
These monkeys are on the smaller side, measuring between 1.4 and 1.6 feet in height and weighing between 7 and 17 pounds. The males are larger than the females. Vervet monkeys have a lifespan of up to 13 years.
The Vervet monkeys prefer to live in areas with tall trees because they depend on them for a safe space to sleep. These monkeys spend their nights up in the trees, preferring trees that are at least 25 feet tall. They also like to be close to a water source.
Vervet monkeys are omnivorous and have a wide range of food in their diet. They eat leaves, seeds, fruit, flowers, flower buds, bird eggs, insects, mushrooms, lizards, rodents, and other small creatures. When they find food, they also have cheek pouches where they can save some for later.
Vervet monkeys move around on all fours and are adept on the ground as well as in the trees. Female vervet monkeys reproduce once a year, usually having one baby around November or December.
Baby vervet monkeys have black fur and pink faces. These babies rely on their mothers for milk as a primary food source until around eight or nine months of age. After that, the offspring starts to forage with the other members of the troop for food.
Vervet monkeys in Florida
The vervet monkey was introduced to Florida in the 1940s when a few of these animals escaped from the Anthropoid Ape Research Foundation. As of 2020, there were about 40 of these monkeys in Florida, split into four groups. The majority of the vervet monkeys in Florida can be found in the Dania Beach area.
Unlike the rhesus macaque, there have been no government efforts to control the vervet monkey population in Florida. There is an ordinance in place in Dania Beach forbidding humans to feed these monkeys, but since it isn’t regularly enforced, the vervet monkeys are used to humans and unafraid of them.
3. Squirrel Monkeys
Scientific Name: Saimiri sciureus
Squirrel monkeys are small New World monkeys that belong to the family Cebidae. This species of squirrel monkey is native to the tropical rainforests of South America. They are one of the smallest primates, measuring only 10 to 14 inches in length, with tails measuring an average of 16 inches.
These monkeys weigh between 1.1 and 1.7 pounds. Like many other primates, they are social creatures and live in groups of up to 50 individuals. They are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in the trees, rarely coming down to the ground.
They are also diurnal, which means they are most active during the day. These omnivorous monkeys eat a variety of food, including bugs, fruit, and small invertebrates. They use a variety of high-pitched calls and whistles to communicate with each other.
These monkeys are included in this article because they used to have established populations in Florida, but sightings have not been reported since 2010. Squirrel monkeys were introduced to the state in a few different occurrences.
Squirrel monkeys in Florida
In the 1970s, a pair of squirrel monkeys were released by a social club and settled down in the Bartlett Estate in Fort Lauderdale. This population grew to 43 individuals by 1988, but as of 2021, there is only one monkey that remains.
Silver Spring State Park used to have a small group of around 20 squirrel monkeys. This population was released into the park in the 1960s as a tourist attraction but had disappeared by the mid-1970s.
From the 1960s to 1989, there was a small population of squirrel monkeys in Masterpiece Gardens near Lake Wales. There is no official record of when or how these monkeys came to be in the area, but they haven’t been seen since 1989, so it is believed they no longer have an established population there.
Another population of squirrel monkeys was once established in Naples near the Gordon River. Efforts to maintain the population and prevent trapping were made by officials in 2002.
Despite these efforts, the population dwindled, and there hasn’t been a sighting since 2010. Cold weather in winter is the most likely reason these monkeys couldn’t last for longer periods of time in Florida.