Thursday, March 3, 2016


There are more than 260 different varieties of monkeys, and they live in many parts of the world.  They can be divided into two groups: Old World monkeys and New World monkeys.  Old World monkeys live in Africa and Asia.  There are fossils that show they also lived in Europe at one time, but they don't live there now.  New World monkeys are native to Central and South America.

Even if you don't know where a particular monkey lives, you can still tell if it is Old World or New World by some other features.  Most Old World monkeys have opposable thumbs, like humans do, so they can use tools and drive cars.  They also have fingernails and toenails.  Some have tails, but others have no tail at all.  And their tails, if they have them, are not prehensile, which means they can't use them to hang onto things like branches.  Old World monkeys have special pouches in their cheeks for storing food.  They also have rump pads, which New World monkeys lack.

Buttocks pads in Celebes macaques (Old World monkeys)
Photo by Radu Xplorator

The nostrils of Old World monkeys are small and curved and are set close together.  Most New World monkeys have round nostrils that are set far apart.

Golden-Headed Lion Tamarins, New World monkeys from Brazil
Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

New World monkeys live almost exclusively in trees, but Old World monkeys have a range of habitats that includes savannas, shrubland, rain forests, and mountainous terrain.  Many Old World monkeys spend most of their day on the ground rather than in the trees.  Some of the most famous types of monkeys from the Old World are baboons and macaques.

The smallest species of monkey is the pygmy marmoset, which can be as small as 4.6" with a 6.8" tail and a weight of 3.5 ounces.

Pygmy Marmoset

A male mandrill is the largest monkey, at about 3.3' long and with a weight of 79 pounds.

Male Mandrill at San Francisco Zoo, Photo by ((brian)) of Sebastopol, CA

Monkey diets differ with various species, but monkeys are omnivores.  In addition to fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts, and flowers, they sometimes also eat eggs, small lizards, insects, and spiders.

Monkeys are very social animals.  A group of them can be called a mission, tribe, troop, or cartload.  The group will work together to take care of all the young.  They also like to groom each other, play, cuddle, and protect each other.

Baboons grooming each other; Old World monkeys

Humans have varied relationships with monkeys.  Some people keep monkeys as pets.  Others use them in laboratories for experimentation.  Monkeys have also been trained as service animals for the disabled. 
Some farmers consider monkeys to be pests because of the damage they cause to crops.  In these places, monkeys might be killed in "monkey drives."  Monkeys can also pester and attack tourists.

Monkey brains are eaten as a delicacy in parts of South Asia, Africa, and China.  In parts of Africa, monkeys may be sold and eaten as "bushmeat."  Muslims, however, are forbidden by Islamic dietary law from eating monkeys. 

New World monkey with prehensile tail

Many species of monkeys have serious conservation issues, and some are in danger of becoming extinct.  One big reason for this is loss of forest habitat as humans clear land to grow food and produce charcoal and firewood.  Monkeys are also captured for the exotic pet trade, killed for bushmeat, and used for traditional medicine.  In some villages, bushmeat is a major source of food.

Crested Black Macacque, Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Photo by Benedictus Givarto

Conservation efforts involve teaching people to grow food in ways that don't involve constantly clearing more land.  Some groups are providing sanctuaries for endangered monkeys and are then reintroducing them to the wild.

Maybe, if we are lucky, these methods will work, and none of the monkeys will go extinct!

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