Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/36

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28
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Next come the spider-monkeys, so called from their slender bodies and enormously long limbs and tail. In these monkeys the tail is so long, strong, and perfect, that it completely takes the place of a fifth hand. By twisting the end of it round a branch the animal can swing freely in the air with complete safety; and this gives them a wonderful power of climbing and passing from tree to tree, because the distance they can stretch is that of the tail, body, and arm added together, and these are all unusually long. They can also swing themselves through the air for great distances, and are thus able to pass rapidly from tree to tree without ever descending to the ground, just like the gibbons in the Malayan forests. Although capable of feats of wonderful agility, the spider-monkeys are usually slow and deliberate in their motions, and have a timid, melancholy expression, very different from that of most monkeys. Their hands are very long, but have only four fingers,, being adapted for hanging on to branches rather than for getting hold of small objects. It is said that, when they have to cross a river the trees on the opposite banks of which do not approach near enough for a leap, several of them form a chain, one hanging by its tail from a lofty overhanging branch and seizing hold of the tail of the one below it, then gradually swinging themselves backward and forward till the lower one is able to seize hold of a branch on the opposite side. He then climbs up the tree, and, when sufficiently high, the first one lets go, and the swing either carries him across to a bough on the opposite side or he climbs up over his companions.

Closely allied to the last are the woolly monkeys, which have an equally well-developed prehensile tail, but better proportioned limbs, and a thick, wholly fur of a uniform gray or brownish color. They have well-formed fingers and thumbs, both on the hands and feet, and are rather deliberate in their motions, and exceedingly tame and affectionate in captivity. They are great eaters, and are usually very fat. They are found only in the far interior of the Amazon Valley, and, having a delicate constitution, seldom live long in Europe. These monkeys are not so fond of swinging themselves about by their tails as are the spider-monkeys, and offer more opportunities of observing how completely this organ takes the place of a fifth hand. When walking about a house, or on the deck of a ship, the partially curled tail is carried in an horizontal position on the ground, and the moment it touches anything it twists round it and brings it forward, when, if eatable, it is at once appropriated; and when fastened up the animal will obtain any food that may be out of reach of its hands with the greatest facility, picking up small bits of biscuit, nuts, etc., much as an elephant does with the tip of his trunk.

We now come to a group of monkeys whose prehensile tail is of a less perfect character, since it is covered with hair to the tip, and is of no use to pick up objects. It can, however, curl round a branch, and serves to steady the animal while sitting or feeding, but is never used