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Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding


Opportunistic omnivores (Estes 1990)

  • Consumes abundant and available foods (Estes 1990)
  • Feed primarily on plants, though they also eat some animals(Struhsaker 1967a; Isbell et al. 1998b)
      • Seasonal foods:
        • Leaves, stems, floral buds and flowers, fruits, seeds, and mushrooms
        • Flowers typically preferred (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
      • Gum from plants eaten year round (Pasternak et al. 2013; Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)

Principal plants consumed

  • Woody shrubs and trees
    • Acacia spp, needle bush (Azima tetracantha), magic guarri (Euclea divinorum), southern llala palm (Hyphaene coriacea), and toothbrush tree (Salvadora persica) (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
      • Rely heavily of Acaciaspp (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
        • Eat leaves, thorns, flowers, pods and peas, gum, bark, and wood (Estes 1990)
      • Fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea) provides 17-57% of the diet in some areas (Isbell et al. 1998b; Struhsaker 1967a)
        • Gum of this tree is a large portion of the diet for vervets in eastern Africa (Isbell et al. 1998a, b)
        • Similar rates of gum consuption (A. karroo) among some South African vervets (Pasternak et al. 2013)
  • Herbs
    • Abutilon mauritianum, erect spiderling (Boerhavia erecta), Lycium europaeum, and dayflower (Commelina spp.) (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
  • Grasses
    • Pennisetum mezianum, scutch-grass (Cynodon dactylon), and stargrass (C. plectostachyus) (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)

Animals consumed

  • Invertebrates
    • Beetles, termites, ants, moths and butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, snails, and mantids (Struhsaker 1967a; Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013; Isbell et al. 1998b)
  • Vertebrates
    • Bird eggs and small chicks (Struhsaker 1967a)
  • Do not scavenge carrion (Struhsaker 1967a)


Forage techniques

  • Search in trees and on the ground (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
    • Move slowly, with no apparent leader (Struhsaker 1967b)
      • May cover 50 yards in 20 minutes (c. 137 m/hr or 450 ft/hr) (Struhsaker 1967b)
    • Turn over sticks, small logs, and dried dung (Struhsaker 1967a)
    • Scratch the ground (Struhsaker 1967e)
    • Slap and leap at winged insects (such as flying termites and grasshoppers) which are caught between clapped hands (Struhsaker 1967a)

Food consumption

  • Hands commonly pluck food and place it into the mouth(Struhsaker 1967a)
    • Apply mouth directly to scrape gum off trees (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013)
  • Teeth tear off portions of plants and break open invertebrate prey
    • Strip outer bark from stems (Struhsaker 1967a)
    • Remove snail shell prior to eating (Struhsaker 1967a)
    • Remove beetle wings; eat only the small, exposed muscle and discard the appendage (Struhsaker 1967a)
  • "Clean" food items
    • Rub food between hands or on another object, similar to the patas monkey (van der Waal et al. 2012)

Water consumption (from Struhsaker 1967e unless otherwise noted)

  • Commonly lower the body to the ground to place the mouth in water
    • Dip hands into water and lick fingers (Struhsaker 1967e; Wrangham 1981)
    • Lick rainwater from tree branches and the pelage of other vervets

Vervet Foraging Strategy

Vervet monkey eating

Vervets forage for food on the ground and in trees. Most food items are plucked with the hands before being placed into the mouth. "Dirty" items may even be cleaned by rubbing them between the hands!

Image credit: © Brian Gratwicke from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Estes (1990)
Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe (2013)
Isbell et al. (1998a,b)
Pasternak et al. (2013)
Struhsaker (1967a,b,e)
van der Waal et al. (2012)
Wrangham (1981)

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