Estación de Biología "Los Tuxtlas", Instituto de Biología-UNAM


Survey of gastrointestional parasites in howler and spider monkeys in southern Mexico

The impact that parasitic infection have on animal populations in the wild has been recognized as an important factor affecting the density and distribution of species (Anderson 1979). Parasitic infections have been identified as critical components to consider in conservation biology (May 1988; Scott 1988).

It is difficult to study many diseases in wild animal populations without invasive procedures, but intestinal parasitic infections can be determined from fecal samples.

Stoner (1996) reports several species of intestinal parasites from the alimentary tract of Alouatta palliata, including :

  • Protozoans: Chilomastix sp., Entamoeba sp., Giardia sp., Isospora arctopitheci, Retortamonas sp.,Toxoplasma gondii, Trichomonas sp. (Hegner 1935; Hendricks 1977; Frenkel & Sousa 1983; Stuart et al. 1990)
  • Nematodes: Ancylostoma sp., Ascaris lumbricoides, Parabronema bonnei, Trypanoxyuris minuta, Vianella dubia (Diaz-Ungria 1965; Durette-Desset 1968; Thatcher & Porter 1968; Hugghins 1969; Stuart et al. 1990).
  • Plathelminthes (digeneans): Controrchis biliophilus (Jiménez-Quirós & Brenes 1957; González et al. 1983; Stuart et al. 1990).
  • Cestodes: Raillietina multitesticulata, R. alouattae (Baylis 1947; Perkins 1950; Thatcher & Porter 1968).
  • Acanthocephalids: Prosthenorchis elegans (Thatcher & Porter 1968).

The use of non invasive techniques to assess the general state of health of primate populations in the wild can contribute, along with other efforts, to their conservation by increasing our understanding of the factors that affect their health and their persistence in specific habitats.

As the natural habitat of howler and spider monkeys become fragmented and reduced in size by human activities in southern Mexico, populations are concentrated more and more in small areas, providing the opportunity for parasite transmission and increase in diseases (Gilbert & Dodds 1987).

Our research program aims at collecting fecal samples for assessing parasite prevalence (gastrointestinal parasites) in populations of howler and spider monkeys existing in landscapes with different degrees of fragmentation and human disturbance as well as in large and protected tracts of rain forest in southern Mexico.

Below is a general model of parasite infection-risk in primate populations inhabiting fragmented landscapes. Decreases in availability of adequate nutritional resources, reduction of habitat size and constant reuse of aerial pathways and inability to increase ranging behavior, coupled to contamination from proximity of humans and domestic animals such as cattle, horses, dogs, etc., increase the risk of infection in primates existing in fragmented landscapes. Such risks may have important negative consequences on individual general health and reproduction and on the growth potential of remnant population.


Different aspects of field and laboratory work in this program. These activities range from tracking the monkeys through the forest, observing their behavior, recording frequency of defecation and features of the microhabitats where defecations occur to the collecting of fecal samples from specific individuals in the population, to the storage of samples.


Fecal samples are stored in 10% formalyn for later processing in the laboratory where the density and identity of gastrointestinal parasites are recorded.


We are collaborating on aspects of this work with Sylvia K. Vitazkova, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, NY. Ms. Vitazkova is completing her doctoral research on how biological, physical, and temporal factors affect the parasitology of black howler monkeys, Alouatta pigra, in Belize and Southern Mexico. In particular, she is examining how diet, primate density, proximity to humans and their domestic animals, climate, fragmentation, and time affect parasitism in black howlers. She can be contacted at [email protected]." 

References cited above plus other relevant work

  • Anderson, R.M. 1979, Parasite pathogenicity and the depression of host population equilibria. Nature 279:150-152
  • Anderson & May 1979, Population biology of infectious diseases, Nature 280:361-366, 455-461
  • Baylis H.A. 1947, Some roudworms and flatworms from the West Indies and Surinam. II Cestodes. Journal of the linnean Society of Zoologists 41:406-414
  • Davies, Ayres, Dye & Deane, 1991, Malaria infection rate of Amazonian primates increases with body weight and group size, Functional ecology 5:655-662
  • Diaz-Ungria C. 1965, Nematodes de primates Venezolanos. Boletin de la Societad Venezolana de Ciencas Naturales 25:393-398
  • Frenkel & Sousa 1983, Antibodies to Toxoplasma in Panamian mammals. Journal of Parasitology 69:244-245
  • Gilbert & Dodds 1987, The philosophy and practice of wildlife management. Robert E. Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida.
  • Gilbert 1997, Red howling monkey use specificdefecation sites as a parasite avoidance strategy, Animal Behavior 54:451-455
  • Gonzáles et al. 1983, Identificación de parasitos metazoarios en cortes histologicos: Veterinaria Mexico 14.159-174     
  • Gregory & Hudson, 2000, Parasites take control, Nature 406:33-34                                                                               
  • Hegner 1935, Intestinal protozoa from Panama monkeys. Journal of Parasitology 21:60-61
  • Hendricks 1977, Host range characteristics of the primate coccidian, Isospora arctopitheci Rodhain 1933 (Protozoa : Eimeriidae), Journal of Parasitology 63:32-35
  • Holt & Pickering 1985, Infectious disease and species coexistence : A model of Lotka-Volterra form. American Naturalist 126:196-211
  • Hugghins 1969, Spirurid and oxyurid nematodes from a red howler monkey in Colombia. Journal of Parasitology 55:680
  • Jiménez-Quirós & Brenes 1957, Helmintos de la Republica de Costa Rica. V. Sobre la validez del género de  Controrchis Price, 1928 (Trematoda, Dicrocoeliidae) y descripción de Controrchis caballeroni n. Sp., Revista de Biología Tropical 5:103-121
  • Leigh & Rand & Windsor, 1982, The ecology of a tropical Forest- Seasonal Rhythms and Long-term changes, Smithsonian Institution press, Washington D.C.
  • May 1988, Conseravtion and Disease. Conservation Biology 2:28-30
  • Milton 1996, Effects of bot fly parasitism on a free.ranging howler monkey population in Panama, Journal of Zoology, London 239:39-63
  • Morand & Poulin, 1998, Density, body mass and parasite species richness of terrestrial mammals, Evolutionary Ecology 12:717-727
  • Perkins 1950, A new cestode, Raillietina (R) multitesticulata n.sp. from the red howler monkey. Journal of Parasitology 36:293-295
  • Porteus & Pankhurst, 1998, Social structure of he mara (Dolichotis patagonum) as a determinant of gastro-intestinal parasitism, Parasitology 116:269-275
  • Price 1980, Evolutionary biology of parasites. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Scott 1988, The impact of infection and disease on animal populations : implications for conservation biology. Conservation Biology 2:40-56
  • Stoner 1995, Conservation Biology 10-2:539-546
  • Stuart et al. 1990, A coprological survey of parasites of wild mantled howling monkeys, Alouatta palliata palliata, Journal of Wildlife Disease 26:547-549
  • Stuart et al. 1998, Parasites of Wild howlers (Alouatta sp.), International Journal of Primatology 19-3:493-512
  • Thatcher & Porter 1968, Some helminth parasites of Panamian primates: Transactions of the American Microscope Society 87:186-196

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