"Here they come!" Chris breathed excitedly, pointing through the trees. Martin nodded, his eyes lighting up at the sight of the small, black-and-white monkeys climbing nimbly from branch to branch as they made their way toward the inland stream where he and his brother had been waiting for them. White-faced capuchins spent much of every day on the move, but their travels always brought them back to a water source sooner or later, especially with the dry season approaching. Now, their thirst satisfied, they began to fan out along the forest floor and among the lower branches of the surrounding trees, foraging for a midday meal.
Unlike many of the animals at the heart of the Kratts' creature adventures, these clever, inquisitive monkeys were not considered an endangered species – and it was that fact which had brought the brothers here to the rainforest in search of them. Though their habitat was threatened in many areas, the capuchins had been able to adapt to the changing conditions around them, and Chris and Martin hoped that observing and studying them might give them some ideas about how to help declining populations among other primate species.
"Hey, Chris," whispered Martin as they began to move cautiously toward the troop, "D'you get the feeling that we're being watched?"
Startled, the younger Kratt glanced around, but it wasn't until he looked up that he spotted their observer: a large male capuchin regarding them intently from one of the higher branches. Noticing the brothers' eyes on him, he bristled, stiffening his legs and lunging forward slightly as he bared his teeth at the intruders.
"That must be the alpha male!" Chris exclaimed, though he too kept his voice low. "He's checking us out to see if we're a danger to the troop."
The brothers held their breath, keeping their movements slow and deliberate and watching the capuchin leader carefully for any signs of aggression or alarm. Finally, he relaxed his intimidating stance and, having apparently decided that they were not a threat, turned his attention to the ripe mangos growing nearby.
"Yes!" Martin turned to Chris for a high-five. "We passed! And if Frank likes us–"
"Frank?" Chris interrupted. "You named him Frank?"
"Sure, why not?" Martin grinned. "The Capuchin monks that these guys were named after – you know, the ones with the long, brown robes – are a Franciscan order, right? But Francis seems kinda formal for a monkey, so..." He gave an eloquent shrug.
Chris raised a quizzical eyebrow, but he couldn't help smiling. "All right, Frank it is."
"Okay, so if Frank likes us," the older Kratt resumed, "then it'll be a lot easier to integrate ourselves into the troop. Everyone listens to the alpha – you don't want to be on his bad side."
"Highly complex social structure," muttered Chris, now taking notes on his Creature Pod. "Alpha male protects troop from predators. Okay, what else have we got?"
"Well, it looks like every monkey for himself when it comes to food," chuckled Martin, watching two young capuchins squabbling over an oblong fruit roughly the size and color of a potato. "But this place is like a giant buffet – there's something for everyone!"
"No kidding," marveled Chris, gazing around at the scope and variety of the capuchins' lunchtime activities. Though many of them were eating fruit, some seemed to prefer leaves, and still others had stripped away the bark from a nearby tree to get to the tasty insects underneath. One had even found a bird's nest and was eagerly slurping up the contents of the eggs inside, keeping a wary eye out for any troopmates who might want to share his treat. "These guys are omnivores in the truest sense of the word – they'll eat just about anything!" He snickered, glancing over at his sibling with a mischievous grin. "Kinda like you, bro."
Martin laughed. "You don't even know what you're missing." Picking up one of the strange brown fruits, he peeled back a strip of the leathery skin and gave the flesh beneath an experimental nibble. "Hmm, not bad. Although–" He grimaced as another of the capuchins pulled a fist-sized mollusk from the muddy bank and began to pound it against the trunk of a nearby tree. "I think I'm gonna have to pass on the clams."
"Yeeeah," Chris agreed, now looking the tiniest bit green. As incredible as the Creature Power Suits were, they hadn't been able to fully compensate for the number of clams he and Martin had once had to eat while trying to liberate a group of walruses from Zach's pearl-harvesting operation, and the memory still made both brothers a little queasy.
"You're right, though." Taking a final bite of the fruit, Martin tossed the pit toward the stream, where it skipped twice across the surface before sinking to the bottom. "About the diet, I mean. Capuchins eat a huge variety of foods, and that makes it a lot easier for them to adapt to changes in their habitat. And using tools gives them even more options – things they wouldn't normally be able to eat." He glanced back toward the clam-digging monkey, who had succeeded in smashing the shell and was now happily consuming the meat inside. "Who needs a strong beak or powerful jaws when you've got opposable thumbs and a handy tree trunk?"
"Or rock," Chris added, watching another monkey lift a good-sized stone above her head and bring it down with great force onto a palm nut that she'd placed atop another, flatter stone.
"Exactly. So if one food source becomes scarce, they can just find anoth– whoa!"
Startled by his brother's shout, Chris looked up from his Creature Pod ("Varied diet; uses tools to obtain food") to see a capuchin in midair, seemingly free-falling from the tree where she'd been perched a moment earlier. Both brothers raced in her direction, cringing as she hurtled toward another tree several meters below her, but to their great astonishment and relief, instead of crash-landing, the monkey simply reached out with her capable hands and caught hold of one of the outer branches, letting the springy, flexible limbs absorb the force of her descent. The next moment, she was atop the branch, ambling calmly along it toward the trunk as though this were a perfectly ordinary way of getting around. The brothers watched in stunned fascination as a second and then a third monkey followed suit, each one launching herself into the void and then swinging lightly up onto the target branch with all the grace of a circus trapeze artist.
"Ohhh, we have got to try that!" Martin tapped his Creature Pod. "Hey, Aviva, d'you think you can make us a couple of capuchin power discs?"
"Of course I can!" But the inventor's confident smile quickly turned apologetic. "But...it's going to be a while. I'm doing that software upgrade this morning, remember? The system's going to be offline until the installation is finished, and then I'll need to run some diagnostics to make sure everything's working properly."
"Oh, yeah." Martin's face fell. Chris put an arm around his shoulders. "Don't worry, bro. We can still do plenty of monkeying around without the suits."
The older Kratt brightened. "That's true. Look at this!" He indicated a pair of young capuchins at the edge of the troop, one of them tilting his head toward the other while his open mouth widened into something very like a smile. "One of the ways capuchins communicate is by facial expressions, and this one's telling his friend that he wants to play!" He moved in closer to get a better view. "Let's see what their game is – maybe they'll let us play, too!"
Spotting a fallen log a short distance from the pair, the two creature adventurers sat down to watch as the first monkey picked up a small twig and bit down on it, clamping it firmly between his teeth while his partner tried to pry it out. He seemed unfazed by the strong, dexterous fingers grabbing at his face and even poking into his nostrils, but the brothers, observing the interaction, exchanged a sidelong glance and then burst out laughing. "On second thought," Martin called to the youngsters, "I think we'll just watch. Thanks anyway!"
Still chuckling, he turned his attention to the rest of the troop, most of whom were now lounging comfortably in the treetops, waiting out the hottest part of the day. One of their number, however, was noticeably absent. "Hey, where's Frank?"
The younger brother scanned the surrounding trees. "I don't see him, either. I bet he's off on a scouting mission. These guys will be on the move again soon, and he needs to make sure that there aren't any predators around – and that they aren't wandering into another troop's territory. Did you know that one of the biggest dangers for capuchin monkeys is actually other capuchins? They may look little and cute, but they can be pretty fierce."
"Kinda like you, bro?" Martin's face was just a little too innocent.
Chris snorted, throwing a palm nut at him, but he was laughing in spite of himself. Rolling his eyes good-naturedly, he got to his feet – digging a playful elbow into his brother's ribs on the way up – and stretched a little as he pulled out his Creature Pod.
He'd intended to continue with his observations, but instead he found himself simply watching the monkeys, captivated by the tranquility of the scene around him. Beneath the lush canopy, the capuchins curled together in snug little groups of two or three, or stretched out along the branches, their arms and legs dangling in an attitude of complete and utter relaxation. Chris fought back a yawn, weighing the temptation to climb up and join them against the pull of the ongoing creature investigation. Behind him, Martin was leaning back on his hands with his eyes half-closed, his face tilted upwards to the warm sunshine. He looked so contented that Chris didn't have the heart to disturb him, not just yet, even though he knew that his brother was no less eager than he was to discover more about the fascinating capuchins. And so it was that another dreamy quarter-hour had slipped away before the younger Kratt spoke again. "Well, it doesn't look like there's much going on around here. D'you want to try following Frank for a while? See what he's up to?"
The blue eyes flew open, sparkling with enthusiasm as Martin scrambled to his feet. "Race you to the Createrra!"