Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Morning Soundscape with Howler Monkeys

I love to lie (or is that lay?) in bed a few minutes each morning with my ears wide open. Our boarding plank creaks. Early outboards head out the creek. Some mornings it rains. This morning precipitation was so light that the awning barely spoke. The night watchman makes his final rounds, and if it's Julio, I can hear him pop the shells out of his gun right before he leaves.

Bird song is what I most like to hear. It's cheery and perky and insinuates itself so sweetly into my waning dreams. But I'm getting used to the howler monkeys who live in the jungle across the river and start their day well before sunrise. Howler monkey howlingphoto courtesy of npr

A lovely lullaby their call is not, although doubtless it's music, or at least data, to their own ears. Thanks to an enlarged bone, the hypoid, near their vocal chords, they rank as one of the world's loudest animals, with a range of 3 miles, says the Guinness Book of World Records.

Supposedly they're calling to check in with other groups of howlers at dawn and dusk. As folivores, they inhabit and ingest the jungle canopy; it's a low-energy food supply, so maybe they watch their spacing as well as check in on the daily net.

Howler monkeys to me sound like a slow-motion wreck, or like a terribly sick and suffering someone. Paradigm shift: better to celebrate them as what they are: the thrilling sound of a tropical jungle large enough to support them.

Would you like to listen? Click here.

Like the sound? It's available as a ringtone. You might not have any trouble deciding whose calls to assign this sound to.

If birdsong soothes me, what might a howler monkey find relaxing? Funny you should ask, because just the other day I read about a study wherein scientists recorded both alarm sounds and easy-going sounds of cotton-topped tamarins, another vocal monkey species. A cellist then 'translated' the calls into 'cello-ese', sped the tape up to monkey-chirp speed, and played it to their (captive) tamarin audience. I wasn't surprised to learn that the alarm-based recordings alarmed and the easy-listening soothed the tamarins. Probably the same with gangsta rap.

Wikipedia's listing says:
Guatemalan Black Howler (alouatta pigra) males are larger than those of any other Central American monkey species. On average, males weigh 11.4 kg (25 lb) and females weigh 6.4 kg (14 lb). The body is between 521 and 639 mm (20.5 and 25.2 in) in length, excluding tail. The tail is between 590 and 690 mm (23 and 27 in) long...Lifespan can be 15-20 years.

As with other species, the majority of the Guatemalan
Black Howler's day is spent resting. Eating makes up about a quarter of
the day, moving about 10% of the day, and the remainder of the day is
spent in socializing and other activities.
One activity reported in Tikal was particularly striking.
HOWLER DEFECATING SIGNPhotobucket Doug went out of his way to get out from under the ones we saw there. I just kept my eyes open and my mouth shut, and the monkeys brachiated on by.

Of course, howler monkeys are considered an endangered species, but apparently not critically so just yet. Somewhere I read that these monkeys are too ill-tempered to make good pets. Loss of habitat is an issue, of course. Being used as food is also a problem for these monkeys, but I have been asking around and can't find anyone at least in the Rio Dulce area who has ever participated in monkey killing or eating (or will admit to it). Guatemala Black Howler at Aurora Zoo
This poor soul was one of a troupe trapped in a concrete jungle near the airport runway at the Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City. I mean concrete jungle literally - all of the things, with the possible exception of the tree in this picture= that look natural, like bamboo or wood, even rock, aren't. They're concrete, artistically done, and we can probably guess the reason. The sponsors who support the zoo, like Bimbo Bread, Pepsi, and Purina, well, they're not in the zoo business. But that's another story.

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