• tails;
  • growth;
  • bending strength


Physical anthropologists have devoted considerable attention to the structure and function of the primate prehensile tail. Nevertheless, previous morphological studies have concentrated solely on adults, despite behavioral evidence that among many primate taxa, including capuchin monkeys, infants and juveniles use their prehensile tails during a greater number and greater variety of positional behaviors than do adults. In this study, we track caudal vertebral growth in a mixed longitudinal sample of white-fronted and brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus albifrons and Cebus apella). We hypothesized that young capuchins would have relatively robust caudal vertebrae, affording them greater tail strength for more frequent tail-suspension behaviors. Our results supported this hypothesis. Caudal vertebral bending strength (measured as polar section modulus at midshaft) scaled to body mass with negative allometry, while craniocaudal length scaled to body mass with positive allometry, indicating that infant and juvenile capuchin monkeys are characterized by particularly strong caudal vertebrae for their body size. These findings complement previous results showing that long bone strength similarly scales with negative ontogenetic allometry in capuchin monkeys and add to a growing body of literature documenting the synergy between postcranial growth and the changing locomotor demands of maturing animals. Although expanded morphometric data on tail growth and behavioral data on locomotor development are required, the results of this study suggest that the adult capuchin prehensile-tail phenotype may be attributable, at least in part, to selection on juvenile performance, a possibility that deserves further attention. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.