Monkeys are mammals of the primate order that exclude human beings, apes and the prosimians (lemurs and tarsiers). They are categorized into the New World and the Old World Monkeys. The latter refers to those that are found in Asia and Africa. They belong to the clade Catarrhini which means ‘narrow nose’. The New World Monkeys are those that are found in Central and South America. These belong to the infraorder Platyrrhini which means ‘flat nose’.
Monkeys form a paraphyletic group that consist of a large number of mammals. There are 264 extant species that have a varied characteristics. Despite the large number of the various types, there are common features that enable them to be grouped in a single category.
Facts about General Characteristics
- Monkeys are social animals and they live in groups which are referred to as missions or tribes.
- They are mostly arboreal. Their habitat includes grasslands, forests, mountains and high plains.
- Their menu list is varied and mostly vegetarian, including fruits, leaves, seeds, nuts, flowers, and eggs. They do sometimes eat small animals.
- They have a highly organized social order with strict hierarchy.
Facts about Old World Monkeys
- Found all over Africa (other than the deserts) and in Asia (mainly in South Asia), Old world Monkeys are characterized by nostrils that are close to each other and point downward.
- Some of them lack tails. Those that have, have tails that are never prehensile.
- Most of them are arboreal (living on trees) with the exception of Baboon and Macaque species which are terrestrial.
- Adult Old World species have 32 teeth and many species have cheek pouches.
- Research reveals that they are more closely related to humans and apes than the New world species. Old World Monkeys are also referred to as true monkeys.
Facts about New World Monkeys
- They are put under the class Platyrrhini as they have nostrils that are set wide apart on a flat nose and point outward.
- All the members are arboreal and have prehensile tails that they used to hang from branches and also to manipulate objects.
- They have 36 teeth, 4 more than their counterparts of the Old World and none of the species have cheek pouches.
- Amongst all the species of New World Monkeys, the Howler Monkey is the only one that is a folivore, meaning it specializes in eating leaves.
Interesting and Random Facts
- Monkeys do not like to be ‘petted’ or ‘cuddled’ or in general subjected to any physical forms of affection by humans.
- Monkeys can possess exceptional strength, and have been known for mauling people to death when provoked.
- Monkeys are good swimmers, but they avoid wetlands.
- All the known Old World species are diurnal in nature, while around 10 of the New World species have shown nocturnal behavior.
- On June 14, 1949, Albert II made his species proud by being the first monkey ever to fly into space in the V-2, a rocket launched by the United States.
- Some religions like Hinduism and Buddhism consider the monkey to be a divine entity or a reincarnation of God, and worship them.
- The tip of the tail of a Spider monkey can support the weight of his entire body. Also, this species does not have a thumb!
- Capuchin monkeys seem to be the most intelligent of the lot. They can be trained to work with quadriplegic patients, they can use a lot of tools skillfully, they have developed different vocalizations for different predators with which to warn others of their species.
- Howler monkeys have a keen sense of smell, and they are capable of picking up scents from as far as 1.5 miles! They are called howler monkeys because their vocalizations sound like howls and can be heard from a distance of 20 miles!
- Monkeys have been known for getting aggressive with people and attacking them. They are pretty short-tempered beings and can get angry easily.
- Also known for their intelligence are the Japanese macaques, and they are the only species which have developed “accents” to communicate! They are also called snow monkeys, and they can withstand temperatures as low as -10ºC! No wonder they love having baths together in hot water springs!
- The Titi monkeys are monogamous, mating for life, and expressing their affection for their partner by licking, kissing, grooming each other, intertwining their tails while sleeping, holding hands and cuddling! The tiny Marmoset monkey is also known to occasionally display monogamous behavior.
- Monkeys have been known to eat dirt and soil when they do not find food.
- Research shows that Colobus monkeys show allomothering, meaning the newborns are cared for by other members of the group rather than the mothers.
- The female Squirrel monkeys are unique because they have a pseudo-penis, which they use to exert dominance over other smaller members of their species!
Monkeys are very intelligent and highly adaptable creatures. Despite conflicts with human beings, from religion and mythology to science and space exploration, the association of monkeys and human beings goes back a long way. It is sad that these animals who have enthralled almost each one of us during our childhood, with their antics and their frequent appearances in stories, are being used in animal testing facilities to carry out experiments. Quite a few are also trained in captivity to perform tricks and help earn a livelihood for their owners. It is best if we remember, that being on the highest rung of hierarchy in the animal kingdom does not give us exclusive rights to things like freedom and dignity.