Bearded saki

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Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Pitheciidae
Subfamily: Pitheciinae
Genus: Chiropotes
Species: C. albinasus, C. chiropotes, C. israelita, C. satanas, C. utahicki

Other names: C. albinasus: white-nosed saki, red-nosed saki, white-nosed bearded saki, red-nosed bearded saki; hvidnæset saki (Danish); witneussaki (Dutch); valkonenäpartasaki (Finnish); saki à nez blanc (French), weißnasensaki (German); saki dal naso bianco (Italian); cuxiú, cuxiú-de-nariz-branco (Portuguese); saki de nariz blanca, saki nariblanco (Spanish); vitnäst saki, vitnosad satansapa, vitnossaki (Swedish); C. chiropotes: C. israelita, red-backed bearded saki; C. israelita: brown-backed bearded saki, bearded saki; cuxiú (Portuguese); capuchinos del Orinoco, mono barbudo (Spanish); C. satanas: C. s. satanas, black bearded saki, bearded saki, black saki, brown-bearded saki; satansaap (Dutch); saki nori (French); cuxiú-preto (Portuguese), rödryggad saki, svartskäggig saki, sydamerikansk satansapa (Swedish); C. utahicki: C. utahickae, C. s. utahicki, Uta Hick’s bearded saki; cuxiú (Portuguese).

The taxonomy of the genus Chiropotes is debated. The IUCN Red List recognizes four species within the genus (C. albinasus, C. chiropotes, C. satanas, and C. utahicki) with C. israelita considered to be a synonym of C. chiropotes. The taxonomy proposed by Bonvicino et al. (2003) and accepted by Groves (2005) elevates former subspecies of C. satanas and formerly synonymous types of the genus to five full species (C. albinasus, C. chiropotes, C. israelita, C. satanas, C. utahicki) and is used here.


Black bearded saki
C. satanas (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

The bearded saki is a medium-sized primate with a bushy, foxlike non-prehensile tail (Hershkovitz 1985; Peetz 2001). However, during the first two months of life, the tail of the infant is prehensile even though the tail of adults is not (van Roosmalen et al. 1988). On the head there are tufts of hair (coronal tufts) on both sides, and the species has a thick beard (Hershkovitz 1985). The tufts and beard are longer and thicker in males than in females (Hershkovitz 1985). The ears are generally not visible as the fur is thick and the shoulders and upper arms have longer hair than the rest of the body, often looking like a cape (Ankel-Simons 2007).

C. albinasus males have a head and body length of 42.7cm (16.8 in) and females measure 41.8cm (16.5 in). C. chiropotes males measure 39.9 cm (15.7 in) while females are 39.0 cm (15.4 in) long. C. satanas males measure 40.6 cm (16.0 in) while females are 36.9 cm (14.5 in) long. C. utahicki males have a head and body length averaging 39.0 cm (15.4 in) while females measure 36.6 cm (14.4 in) (Hershkovitz 1985). On average, males have greater body mass than females (Hershkovitz 1985). Female bearded sakis weigh on average 2.56 kg (5.6 lb) while males average 3.06kg (6.75 lb) (Ford & Davis 1992).

In general, the different species of bearded sakis can be distinguished by pelage differences (Bonvicino et al. 2003). C. israelita is distinguished by its black extremities and the contrasting tawny-olive and buffy-brown dorsum but overall, the body is dark-brown to black. The hairless face, head, beard, and tail are blackish and it has a tuft of hair on either side of the head (Bonvicino et al. 2003). C. chiropotes is black overall, with light brown or reddish hair to mostly orange or ochre on its back and blackish limbs, ventrum, tail, and sides (Hershkovitz 1985; Peetz 2001; Bonvicino et al. 2003). C. utahicki has a predominantly brownish back and overall the coat is reddish-brown or buffy (Hershkovitz 1985; Bonvicino et al. 2003). The beard and extremities are dark brown and the tail is black-brown. (Hershkovitz 1985). C. satanas has a blackish or blackish-brown back with only slightly darker limbs. Ventral surfaces are blackish and the face is black but sometimes with lighter colors interspersed (Hershkovitz 1985). C. albinasus is mostly blackish over its entire body, including the ventral surfaces, but the nose and upper lips are a sharply contrasting whitish color. In this species, female head tufts are less developed in females than in males (Hershkovitz 1985).

Bearded sakis move predominantly quadrupedally (Fleagle & Mittermeier 1980; Walker 1996). For example, C. satanas moves through its environment in a mostly quadrupedal fashion (80% of movement), but leaping (18%) is also used and climbing is only rarely seen (Fleagle & Meldrum 1988). During leaps, bearded sakis usually land on all fours, and often start leaps while already moving, not from a standing start (Walker 2005). During suspensory feeding, the non-prehensile tail of adult bearded sakis may be used as a support (van Roosmalen et al. 1988). Bearded sakis usually travel and feed in the higher parts of the forest canopy, although C. utahicki in at least one study used middle forest strata (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981; Walker 1996; Bobadilla & Ferrari 2000).

In captivity, bearded sakis have lived into their high teens (Weigl 2005).


In general, bearded sakis are found in eastern Amazonia; present in Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, and Venezuela (Hershkovitz 1985). The western limit of the genus appears to be at least as far west as the Pico da Neblina National Park, Brazil (Boubi 2002). Amongst the species, C. chiropotes is found from southern and central Venezuela east to the mouth of the Amazon which also forms its southern limit of distribution (Peetz 2001). C. utahicki exists south of the Amazon and its mouth, between the Xingu and Tocantins rivers as far south as the Serra dos Carajás and the Itacaiuna River (Hershkovitz 1985). The distribution of C. satanas is east of C. utahcki, extending east from the Tocantins River to likely as far as and probably east of the Gurupú River (Hershkovitz 1985). C. israelita is found in the Brazilian Amazonas and Roraima States, restricted in the south and west by the Rio Negro and in the east by the Rio Branco (Bonvicino et al. 2003). C. albinasus is restricted south of the Amazon, meeting C. utahicki in the east at the Xingu River and range as far south and west as the Brazilian side of the Guaporé/Iteñez river which separates Brazil from the Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia (Wallace et al. 1996; Peetz 2001). As such, the species could conceivably be present in Bolivia as the river is narrow at this point (Wallace et al. 1996). Bearded sakis are present in the southwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia, but the restricted extent of its distribution in the state appears to be west of the Jiparaná-Pimenta Bueno river system, and the reasons for the limits of its distribution in this region are unclear (Ferrari et al. 1999).


Bearded sakis are found in various types of forest, preferring high rain forest but including high and low primary rainforest, high and mountain savanna forest, transitional semi-deciduous tropical moist forest, savanna-like forest, terre firme rain forest, southern forest, Mora forest, premontane forest, Wallaba forest, Kanuku forest and Southeast seasonal forest. Other forms of habitat are used as well, including riparian forests, varzea and annually flooded forests, liana forest, igapó forest and selectively cut forests as well as other secondary forests (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981; Branch 1983; Johns & Ayres 1987; Ayres 1989; Sussman & Phillips-Conroy 1995; Ferrari et al. 1999; Bobadilla & Ferrari 2000; Peetz 2001; Trolle 2003; Lehman 2004; Port-Carvalho & Ferrari 2004; Lehman et al. 2006). However, the species only uses edge habitats rarely (Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981). C. utahicki is somewhat more tolerant of habitat disturbance than was previously assumed (Bobadilla & Ferrari 2000).

At one study site in Venezuela, there is a dry season from roughly December to May, with annual rainfall totaling 134.0 cm (52.8 in). At this study site, the average temperature is 25.6°C (78.1°F). Temperatures are lowest in December and January and hottest in April and May (Peetz 2001).


C. albinasus
C. albinasus (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

Bearded sakis are mostly frugivorous with a high dietary component of seeds making them seed predators (seeds are usually over half of the diet) (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; 1988; Kinzey & Norconk 1993; Norconk & Kinzey 1994; Norconk 1996; review in Peetz 2001; Peetz 2001). In fact, this reliance on seeds may largely exclude them from adverse affects of low rainfall on food availability (Norconk 1996). In addition, bearded sakis have dental adaptations which allow then to crack and access seeds in extremely hard pods. They open hard-shelled fruits in a specialized, efficient process using their teeth (van Roosmalen et al. 1988). Immature seeds and ripe fruit are also consumed, with a lesser reliance on flowers and leaf stalks (van Roosmalen et al. 1988; Port-Carvalho & Ferrari 2004). Between study sites, foods include seeds (50.7-74.8% of diet), fleshy fruit (0-52%), flowers (0-11.4%), leaves (0-16.1%), and insects 0.5-21%) (reviewed in Norconk 2007). At one study site in Venezuela, up to 85 plant species were consumed, but only a small number of preferred species made up the majority of the diet (Peetz 2001). At a study site in Brazil, bearded sakis consumed more than a hundred species of plants (Veiga 2005).

There are some seasonal shifts in feeding habits at one study site in Venezuela, with highest amounts of seed feeding occurring during the dry months, and higher amounts of fruit feeding and a reduction of seed-eating during the wet months (Norconk 1996; Peetz 2001). However, the only true period of food scarcity at this site was during transitions between the seasons, and the bearded sakis coped by lengthening their daily path to find suitable foods (Peetz 2001).

Bearded sakis actively forage for arthropods (lepidopterans & orthopterans, including insects, larvae, spiders, caterpillars, cicadas, and ants), but such foods represent a dietary supplement and are only a minor food source (Mittermeier et al. 1983; Frazão 1991; Norconk 1996; Peetz 2001; Veiga 2005; Veiga & Ferrari 2006). Geophagy is also recorded for bearded sakis, with individuals seen taking and eating soil from an arboreal termite nest (Veiga & Ferrari 2007).

C. chiropotes
C. chiropotes (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

Bearded sakis are diurnal primates, with activity occurring between soon after sunup to right before sundown (Silva & Ferrari 2009). Most of the day is spent traveling and feeding, with less time engaged in resting, foraging, and in social behavior (Veiga 2005; Silva & Ferrari 2009). In Venezuela, bearded sakis monkeys (C. chiropotes) living on an island spent their time feeding (37.0%), foraging (10.1%), traveling (18.7%), nesting (21.4%) and in other activities (12.8%) (Peetz 2001). Sleeping sites are usually among the tallest trees available, and are usually different from night to night (Peetz 2001). Sleep occurs in tall trees with the tail curled around the body (Silva & Ferrari 2009).

Recorded home ranges of groups in continuous forest are 2.5-3.5 km² (0.97-1.35 mi²)(C. albinsasus), 1.42 km² (0.57 mi²)and 2.0-5.59 km² (0.77-2.16 mi²)(C. chiropotes) and 0.69 km² and 0.8 km² (0.27 and 0.31 mi²)(C. satanas) (Ayres 1981 cited in Ayres 1989; van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Peetz 2001; Veiga 2005; Boyle et al. 2008, 2009; Silva & Ferrari 2009). Between study sites and species, Chiropotes day range averages are between 1097-3200 m (3599.1-(10498.7 feet) (range 240-4500m (787.4-14763.8 ft) (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Norconk & Kinzey 1994; review in Peetz 2001; review in Norconk 2007; Boyle et al. 2009).

Bearded sakis are sympatric with a number of other primate species across their range, including Alouatta spp., Aotus spp., Ateles spp., Cebus spp., Pithecia spp., Saguinus spp., and Saimiri spp. (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Norconk & Kinzey 1994; Bobadilla & Ferrari 1998; 2000; Wright 2004; Silva & Ferrari 2009). Even though bearded sakis and Ateles spp. are sympatric and both are frugivorous, there is little competition between the two genera due to different preferences for fruit ripeness and fruit parts (Norconk & Kinzey 1994). However, agonistic encounters sometimes occur between Cebus spp. and bearded sakis when they are both feeding in the same tree and sometimes Alouatta spp. are displaced by bearded sakis or vice versa (Silva & Ferrari 2009; Sarah Boyle pers. comm.). Interspecific associations of Chiropotes with Cebus spp. and Saimiri sciureus have been seen, during which activities are synchronized between the species (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Silva & Ferrari 2009).

A boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) was recorded killing an adult bearded saki 8 meters (26.2 ft) above the ground (Ferrari et al. 2004). Harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) have been seen taking adult male bearded sakis (Martins et al. 2005).


Bearded sakis live in relatively large multi-male groups (several adult males, females, and offspring) with group size averages ranging between 2.3 and 32.7 individuals. Single groups have been seen numbering as high as 44 or more individuals (Vessey et al. 1976; Roosmalen et al. 1981; Branch 1983; Ayres 1989; Ferrari 1995; Norconk 1996; Bobadilla & Ferrari 1998; Ferrari et al. 1999; Norconk et al. 2003; Veiga 2005; Silva & Ferrari 2009). However, groups usually have between around 10 and 30 members (Roosmalen et al. 1981; Mittermeier & van Roosmalen 1981; Johns & Ayres 1987).

The social system of bearded sakis has been described as a complex fission-fusion system (Veiga 2005; Silva & Ferrari 2009). While foraging, bearded saki groups travel together between feeding trees, and then spread out into smaller subgroups between 50 (164.0 ft) and a couple hundred meters from each other while feeding (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Ayres 1989; Kinzey & Cunningham 1994; Norconk & Kinzey 1994; Silva & Ferrari 2009). Subgroups are commonly an adult mated pair and offspring, and individual males may associate in subgroups preferentially with certain females (Peetz 2001; Silva & Ferrari 2009). When the group is spread out foraging however, the members are in constant vocal contact (Peetz 2001). Larger subgroups have been known to last for several days (Silva & Ferrari 2009).

White-nosed saki
C. albinasus (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

In one study, a single group of C. satanas had a variety of social behaviors, including social rest (36.6% of social activities), alarm vocalizations (25.2%), play (7.8%), lining up (7.0%), agonism (4.4%) and suckling (1.7%), copulation (1.7%), mounting (1.7%), and leaf shaking (1.7%) (Silva & Ferrari 2009). During social rest, the group or subgroup comes together within 2 meters. As they line up several males come together and rub their bodies together while sitting next to each-other side-by side (Peetz 2001; Silva & Ferrari 2009). This activity is of short duration but occurs often during threatening situations (Araya & Peetz 2000; Silva & Ferrari 2009). When neighboring groups come into contact with one other near the periphery of their home ranges, intergroup interactions may occur involving males vocalizing and staring at each other (Silva & Ferrari 2009). Allogrooming, when it does occur, is often between adult males (Silva & Ferrari 2009).

In one wild group, the older male appeared to hold a position of importance, intervening in agonistic interactions, as well as deciding where the group traveled and participating in most hugging and lining-up events (Peetz 2001).

Generally, agonism is rare in the wild (Peetz 2001). Agonistic behaviors have been studied in captive bearded sakis (C. utahicki) however. Categories of such behaviors include threatening, snatching, bounding, balancing, and chasing (Fernandes 1993). Tail-wagging increases when the situation is stressful, excited, or tense (Fernandes 1993).


In general, there are limited data on reproduction and some disagreement about how to define the mating system of bearded sakis. Some authors postulate a polygynous system, while others argue that it may be closer to a multi-male/multi-female system (Peetz 2001). The majority of copulations last around one minute (40-90 seconds) with those involved returning to their previous activities soon after (Peetz 2001).

In the wild in Venezuela, births occur during the dry season (December-April) while in Suriname, births occur at the beginning of the rainy season (December-January) (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Peetz 2001). In captivity, no birth season is seen (Malacco & Fernandes 1989). Females exist sexual swellings in which the ano-genital region becomes bright red (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Peetz 2001). Presenting in captivity consists of a female lying down in front of a male and moving the tail away from the ano-genital region, while in the wild, no such behaviors were noted (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Peetz 2001). There is anecdotal evidence that a female may copulate with several males in a row in the wild (Silva & Ferrari 2009).

Gestation is around 5 months (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Kinzey 1997).


Black bearded saki
C. satanus (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

In general, there is little information about infant growth and development in bearded sakis. Most data comes from a single study of wild C. chiropotes in Venezuela and a single C. albinasus and C. chiropotes hybrid infant in captivity (Hick 1968b cited in van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Peetz 2001). Infant bearded sakis are born as singletons with their eyes open (van Roosmalen et al. 1981; Malacco & Fernandes 1989; Peetz 2001). The interbirth interval is probably normally no less than two years (Peetz 2001). In the first several weeks of life, the infant does little but sleep (Hick 1968b in van Roosmalen et al. 1981). For the first two months, the infant is carried ventrally, moving to mostly dorsal carriage in the third month. By month three, the infant will move up to a meter away from its mother, and start moving and playing on its own. Independent travel and the eating of solid foods start in the 4th month and social play increases during this time. By the 5th month, the infant is still carried while the group is traveling but may move up to 10 meters away from its mother and it feeds independently more often. In the 6th month, the infant is often pushed off the mother, and only carried during long-distance travel. The infant is also seen more than 10 meters from its mother. In the 7th-9th months, independent travel increases as does independent feeding, and by the 10th month of life, travel is almost entirely independent. From the 10th-13th month, the mother is still followed and food is taken from her. Maturation begins around three years of age (Peetz 2001).


Even less is known about communication in bearded sakis, and in most cases data are limited to anecdotal observations. A high-pitched whistling vocalization is typically emitted during travel, foraging and as a contact call (Ayres 1981 cited in Ayres 1989; van Roosmalen et al. 1981). Low pitched calls are given during feeding and resting (Ayres 1989). Weak chirps indicate satisfaction and shrill cries are heard when disturbed (Hick 1968a). Loud squeaks are emitted when predators are spotted (Peetz 2001). Vocalization is also often heard in times of excitement (Peetz 2001).

Visual signals of anger include rearing on the hindlimbs, vibrating the beard and grinding the teeth (Hick 1968a). Tail-wagging also occurs when bearded sakis are excited, but probably does not have an efficient communicatory function (Fernandes 1993).


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Conservation information last updated in 2009 follows, for comparison:

The southern bearded saki (C. satanas) habitat is centered in one of the most disturbed and populated areas of the Amazon (Johns & Ayres 1987). This illustrates a serious conservation problem for the genus, since the two most geographically restricted species (C. satanas and C. utahicki) also have the most severe threats to their survival (Ferrari et al. 1999).


Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

Red-backed bearded saki
C. chiropotes (Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo)

Like most primates, loss of habitat represents the primary threat to the survival of bearded sakis and is continuing and widespread (Johns & Ayres 1987; Silva & Ferrari 2009). In 1984, a dam flooded 2400 acres of mostly primary rainforest in the C. satanas range, not only destroying habitat, but also increasing development at the margins of the newly formed lake (Johns & Ayres 1987). Mining and railroads for mining product extraction and the development they bring also threaten bearded saki habitats (Johns & Ayres 1987; Malacco & Fernandes 1989). Other threats to their habitat include forest clearance for agriculture, large-scale road projects, hydroelectric power generation, pastoral farming, and colonization programs (Malacco & Fernandes 1989; Bobadilla & Ferrari 2000). Bearded sakis are not found in areas where significant fragmentation is coupled with hunting, but they can survive in some fragmented areas (Ferrari et al. 1999). Contrary to earlier reports of an inability to survive in disturbed habitats, bearded sakis may be more tolerant than previously thought to disturbance (Johns & Ayres 1987; Ferrari et al. 1999; Bobadilla & Ferrari 2000). In fact, fragments as small as 50 km² may be able to sustain populations, but fragmentation does profoundly affect the ecology of the species (Ferrari et al. 1999; Boyle et al. 2009).

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

Bearded saki monkeys are hunted for food, as well as other reasons (sometimes the tail is taken for use as a souvenir or duster) (Johns & Ayres 1987; Ferrari et al. 1999). Hunting becomes more of a threat when coupled with habitat degradation and deforestation (Cormier 2000). In general, indigenous hunting of bearded sakis does not necessarily threaten the species as the cull is often very low, and in fact reserves for indigenous peoples may actually help in the conservation of the species, as they help stem deforestation (Cormier 2000). Roads can increase hunting, as they facilitate access to bearded saki populations (Johns & Ayres 1987).


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Chiropotes albinasus
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Chiropotes albinasus
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Chiropotes albinasus
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Chiropotes albinasus
Photo: Primates in Art & Illustration Collection

Chiropotes chiropotes
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Chiropotes chiropotes
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo

Chiropotes satanas
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo
Chiropotes satanas
Photo: Luiz Claudio Marigo

Cite this page as: Gron, K. J. (2009). Primate Factsheet: Bearded saki (Chiropotes). In: Primate Info Net, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison. Available from: <>. Reviewed by Sarah Boyle. Last modified 26 June 2009.

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