The diet of the black handed spider monkey differs when going from the wild to captivity. In zoos the menu for this animal consists of primate chow, oranges, sweet potatoes, bananas, apples, celery, spinach, onions, eggs, peanuts, sunflower seeds and other seeds, crickets and even meal worms. This will vary from day to day to provide the right combination of vitamins, proteins and water that the black handed spider monkey needs to survive well in captivity.
In the wild, the eating habits of the black handed spider monkey ranges from fresh fruit to leaves. When they are plentiful in supply they prefer fruit and use it to make up seventy five percent of their complete diet. When the fruit is in good supply, the black handed spider monkeys will roam in groups of twenty or more but when food supplies are scarce they split up into smaller groups of two to eight monkeys and come back together only when food becomes more available once more.
The black handed spider monkey will defend its feeding areas from other primates. They will stay in an area where food is readily available until they have completely stripped the trees and foliage, before moving on to the next feeding ground.
When fruit becomes scarce the black handed spider monkey will eat mostly leaves which are not as nutritional as fruit but are plentiful.
These monkeys will also eat flowers, insects, buds and honey. They prefer fruit that is very ripe and fleshy. They spend between seventy and eighty per cent of their eating time consuming fruit. The fruit does however lack the protein that they need to survive. To satisfy this protein need the monkeys will eat young leaves. The fruit and leaves also provide most of the monkeys water requirements. They will sometimes drink water from tree holes. Bromeliads (a family of monocot flowering plants such as Spanish moss and pineapples) also provide moisture. Though it is rare the black handed spider monkey will drink ground water if necessary.
The monkey will usually sleep in trees that also provide a ready supply of food. The female monkey seem to be better adapted to choosing the best trees for feeding.
The black handed spider monkeys are listed as vulnerable in some areas, high concern in others and endangered in a few places. There are several reasons for this. Man itself is the number one enemy of the monkey due to destroying its natural habitat. This in turn removes many of the fruit trees and food supply that the monkey depends on for survival.