Written by: on December 4, 2019 @ 10:00 am

Have you ever pretended to be a monkey?  Swinging from a tree with long tail sounds like a lot of fun! What do you know about monkeys?  What makes monkeys different from other animals? Where do monkeys live?   

A monkey is a small to medium-sized primate that lives in tropical climates. Primates are an order of mammals characterized by their large brain, usage of hands, and complex behavior. Their dexterity, or skill, with their hands is something that sets them apart from other mammals.  Many species of primates have opposable thumbs or toes and nails instead of claws. Primates range in size from the 1 oz Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur to the over 400lb eastern gorilla! It is easy to sometimes confuse different primates like apes and monkeys, but scientists have organized all primates into various categories.

Scientists organize and classify species depending on their origin and unique features. The groupings start with a general commonality and get more specific as the scientist continues their classification.  For instance, there are 2 main suborders of primates: Strepsirrhini (lemurs and lorises) and Haplorhini. Within the Haplorhini classification, there are the infraorders tarsier and simian, and within the simian infraorder is where you find monkeys, apes and humans! And from there the classification only gets more complicated as you delve into families, genus, and species. There are upwards of about 400 species of primates, but only around 200 species of monkey!

How can you tell the difference between a monkey from the other primates? Monkeys have tails! Generally, monkeys have tails and apes do not.  Their tail is a unique feature. All monkeys have tails, but only some have a prehensile tail. A prehensile tail can hold a monkey’s whole weight!  It’s almost as if they have a 5th limb as they hang and swing through the trees with their arms, legs AND tail!

Monkeys live in tropical rainforests, mountains, and grasslands in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Old world monkeys like baboons and macaque live in the continents of Africa and Asia.  New world monkeys like capuchin monkeys and spider monkeys live in Central and South America.  They all live in regions close to the equator and most are arboreal, meaning they live the majority of their life in trees, but some are terrestrial.  Terrestrial monkeys live mostly on the ground but can still go up into the trees for safety and food. Old and new world monkeys are categorized by their geographical origin and also by the shape of their nose; broad nose for new world and narrow nose for old world.

Additional features that are unique to monkeys are their ability to use tools and that they live in social groups.  It can vary from species to species but generally groups of related females live together with a handful of unrelated males.  Being mammals, monkeys breastfeed their babies just like humans! Living in a social group allows them to survive and thrive because they can work together to gather food and raise their young.  There is also safety in numbers and their tree lifestyle also keeps them safe!

Do you know of any other animals that live in social groups? Monkeys, wolves, apes, and elephants are all examples of animals that live in social groups.  Ants and bees are examples of insects that live in social groups.  Birds will migrate in social groups but otherwise just pair up to raise chicks. Animals will create social groups to help keep each other safe, find food, and even to raise their young together!

 Now when you visit the zoo, you’ll be able to tell which primates are monkeys! Monkeys are amazing animals!

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