Any of several species of slow-moving tropical American monkeys (genus Alouatta) noted for their roaring cries, which carry over a distance of 2–3 mi (3–5 km). Five widely distributed species are the largest New World monkeys, generally reaching lengths of 16–28 in. (40–70 cm), excluding the 20–30-in. (50–75-cm) tail. Howlers are stoutly built and bearded, with a hunched appearance and a thickly furred, prehensile tail. Their hair is long and thick and, depending on the species, black, brown, or red. Howlers live in groups in territories mapped out by howling matches with neighbouring clans. They feed primarily on leaves.
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Howler monkeys (genus Alouatta monotypic in subfamily Alouattinae) are among the largest of the New World monkeys. Nine species are currently recognised. Previously classified in the family Cebidae, they are now placed in the family Atelidae. These monkeys are native to South and Central American forests. They live in groups of usually about 18 individuals. Threats to howler monkeys include being hunted for food and captivity.
While seldom aggressive, howler monkeys do not take well to captivity and are of surly disposition, and hence are the only monkey in their forests not made a pet by the Native Americans . However, the Black Howler (Alouatta caraya) is a relatively common pet monkey in contemporary Argentina due to its gentle nature, in comparison to the capuchin monkey's aggressive tendencies, in spite of its lesser intelligence as well as the liabilities meant by the size of its droppings and the males' loud vocalisation.
Alexander von Humboldt said about howler monkeys that "their eyes, voice, and gait are indicative of melancholy", while John Lloyd Stephens described those at the Maya ruins of Copán as "grave and solemn as if officiating as the guardians of consecrated ground". To the Mayas of the Classic Period, they were the divine patrons of the artisans, especially scribes and sculptors. Copán in particular is famous for its representations of Howler Monkey Gods. Two howler monkey brothers play a role in the 16th century myth of the Maya Hero Twins included in the Popol Vuh.