Black and White and Flying All Over The Place: Colobus Monkeys!

Written by Thomson Safaris

Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Gary Hapken

From overhead, a shrieking howl rings through the trees. You look up, but all you see is a streak of white fluttering on the breeze.

Is it a bird? Is it a superhero?

No, it’s a Colobus monkey!

These black-and-white beauties spend most of their time high in the treetops, where they find their favorite food, the tender young leaves that don’t grow down below. In order to get around, they use the springy branches near the trees’ crowns as improvised trampolines, sometimes flying as far as 50 feet through the air.

That may sound like a superhero ability…and when you see a black-and-white Colobus in “flight,” you’ll realize it’s wearing a superhero outfit, too.

The silky white hair that distinguishes the species forms a U-pattern down the monkeys’ backs, fluttering out behind them in the breeze almost like a cape. In fact, the white mantle and long, puffy tail act as a sort of natural parachute for the monkeys, helping them land on narrow branches in the upper canopy.

Like all good superheroes, Colobus monkeys have a special power: imperviousness to poison (at least some). Complex stomachs allow them to eat toxic plants most other animals can’t…which is almost another superpower, at least in times of scarcity.

But no superhero is without a fatal flaw, and the Colobus is no exception: though they’re surprisingly adept, the monkeys have no thumbs.

In fact, that’s how they got their name; “Colobus” derives from the Greek word for “mutilated.”

Though who knows; it could refer to the red sun of their home planet…