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Temporal range: Late Eocene–Present [1]
Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) Photograph By Shantanu Kuveskar.jpg
Bonnet macaque Macaca radiata Mangaon, Maharashtra, India
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
[lower-alpha 1]
Groups included
Cladistically included but traditionally excluded taxa

Monkey is a common name that may refer to certain groups or species of simian mammals of infraorder Simiiformes. The term is applied descriptively to groups of primates, such as families of New World monkeys and Old World monkeys. Many monkey species are tree-dwelling (arboreal), although there are species that live primarily on the ground, such as baboons. Most species are mainly active during the day (diurnal). Monkeys are generally considered to be intelligent, especially the Old World monkeys of Catarrhini.

Simians and tarsiers emerged within haplorrhines some 60 million years ago. New World monkeys and catarrhine monkeys emerged within the simians some 35 million years ago. Old World monkeys and Hominoidea emerged within the catarrhine monkeys some 25 million years ago. Extinct basal simians such as Aegyptopithecus or Parapithecus [35-32 million years ago], eosimiidea and sometimes even the Catarrhini group are also considered monkeys by primatologists. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Lemurs, lorises, and galagos are not monkeys; instead they are strepsirrhine primates. Like monkeys, tarsiers are haplorhine primates; however, they are also not monkeys.

Apes emerged within "monkeys" as sister of the Cercopithecidae in the Catarrhini, so cladistically they are monkeys as well. There has been resistance to directly designate apes (and thus humans) as monkeys, so "Old World monkey" may be taken to mean the Cercopithecoidea or the Catarrhini. [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [9] [16] [17] [18] That apes are monkeys was already realized by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in the 18th century. [19]

Monkeys, including apes, can be distinguished from other primates by having only two pectoral nipples, a pendulous penis, and a lack of sensory whiskers. [20] [ better source needed ]

Historical and modern terminology

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "monkey" may originate in a German version of the Reynard the Fox fable, published circa 1580. In this version of the fable, a character named Moneke is the son of Martin the Ape. [21] In English, no very clear distinction was originally made between "ape" and "monkey"; thus the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica entry for "ape" notes that it is either a synonym for "monkey" or is used to mean a tailless humanlike primate. [22] Colloquially, the terms "monkey" and "ape" are widely used interchangeably. [23] Also, a few monkey species have the word "ape" in their common name, such as the Barbary ape.

Later in the first half of the 20th century, the idea developed that there were trends in primate evolution and that the living members of the order could be arranged in a series, leading through "monkeys" and "apes" to humans. [24] Monkeys thus constituted a "grade" on the path to humans and were distinguished from "apes".

Scientific classifications are now more often based on monophyletic groups, that is groups consisting of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys are each monophyletic groups, but their combination was not, since it excluded hominoids (apes and humans). Thus the term "monkey" no longer referred to a recognized scientific taxon. The smallest accepted taxon which contains all the monkeys is the infraorder Simiiformes, or simians. However this also contains the hominoids, so that monkeys are, in terms of currently recognized taxa, non-hominoid simians. Colloquially and pop-culturally, the term is ambiguous and sometimes monkey includes non-human hominoids. [25] In addition, frequent arguments are made for a monophyletic usage of the word "monkey" from the perspective that usage should reflect cladistics. [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]

A group of monkeys may be commonly referred to as a tribe or a troop. [31]

Two separate groups of primates are referred to as "monkeys": New World monkeys (platyrrhines) from South and Central America and Old World monkeys (catarrhines in the superfamily Cercopithecoidea) from Africa and Asia. Apes (hominoids)—consisting of gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans—are also catarrhines but were classically distinguished from monkeys. [32] [33] [34] [35] (Tailless monkeys may be called "apes", incorrectly according to modern usage; thus the tailless Barbary macaque is sometimes called the "Barbary ape".)


As apes have emerged in the monkey group as sister of the old world monkeys, characteristics that describe monkeys are generally shared by apes as well. Williams et al outlined evolutionary features, including in stem groupings, contrasted against the other primates such as the tarsiers and the lemuriformes. [36]

Monkeys range in size from the pygmy marmoset, which can be as small as 117 millimetres (4.6 in) with a 172-millimetre (6.8 in) tail and just over 100 grams (3.5 oz) in weight, [37] to the male mandrill, almost 1 metre (3.3 ft) long and weighing up to 36 kilograms (79 lb). [38] Some are arboreal (living in trees) while others live on the savanna; diets differ among the various species but may contain any of the following: fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts, flowers, eggs and small animals (including insects and spiders). [39]

Some characteristics are shared among the groups; most New World monkeys have prehensile tails while Old World monkeys have non-prehensile tails or no visible tail at all. Old World monkeys have trichromatic color vision like that of humans, while New World monkeys may be trichromatic, dichromatic, or—as in the owl monkeys and greater galagosmonochromatic. Although both the New and Old World monkeys, like the apes, have forward-facing eyes, the faces of Old World and New World monkeys look very different, though again, each group shares some features such as the types of noses, cheeks and rumps. [39]


The following list shows where the various monkey families (bolded) are placed in the classification of living (extant) primates.

Cladogram with extinct families

Below is a cladogram with some extinct monkey families. [40] [41] [42] Generally, extinct non-hominoid simians, including early Catarrhines are discussed as monkeys as well as simians or anthropoids, [32] [33] [34] which cladistically means that Hominoidea are monkeys as well, restoring monkeys as a single grouping. It is indicated approximately how many million years ago (Mya) the clades diverged into newer clades. [43] [44] [45] [46] It is thought the New World monkeys started as a drifted "Old World monkey" group from the old world (probably Africa) to the new world (South America). [33]

Haplorhini  (64)



Eosimiidae s.s. (†37)

Phileosimias (†46)

Amphipithecidae (†35)


Parapithecoidea (†30)

Proteopithecidae (†34)

Platyrrhini  (30)

Chilecebus (†20)


Tremacebus (†20)


Homunculus (†16)

Dolichocebus (†20)

Crown Platyrrhini (New World Monkeys)

Catarrhini  (35)

Oligopithecidae (†34)


Propliopithecoidea (†30)


Pliopithecoidea (†6)


Micropithecus (†15)

Hominoidea  (30)

Proconsulidae (†18)


Equatorius (†16)

Afropithecidae  (28)

Morotopithecus (†20)


Afropithecus (†16)

Nyanzapithecinae (†7)

Crown Hominoidea  (22)




Saadanioidea (†28)

Cercopithecoidea  (24)


Crown Cercopithecoidea (Old World Monkeys)

Catharrhini  (31)
Simians  (40)
(Monkeys, Anthropoids, 47)

Relationship with humans

Macaque on a "Please do not feed monkeys" sign in Ko Chang, Thailand. Please do not feed monkeys Koh Chang.jpg
Macaque on a "Please do not feed monkeys" sign in Ko Chang, Thailand.

The many species of monkey have varied relationships with humans. Some are kept as pets, others used as model organisms in laboratories or in space missions. They may be killed in monkey drives (when they threaten agriculture) or used as service animals for the disabled.

In some areas, some species of monkey are considered agricultural pests, and can cause extensive damage to commercial and subsistence crops. [47] [48] This can have important implications for the conservation of endangered species, which may be subject to persecution. In some instances farmers' perceptions of the damage may exceed the actual damage. [49] Monkeys that have become habituated to human presence in tourist locations may also be considered pests, attacking tourists. [50]

In popular culture monkeys are a symbol of playfulness, mischief and fun. [51] [ circular reference ]

As service animals for disabled people

Some organizations train capuchin monkeys as service animals to assist quadriplegics and other people with severe spinal cord injuries or mobility impairments. After being socialized in a human home as infants, the monkeys undergo extensive training before being placed with disabled people. Around the house, the monkeys assist with daily tasks such as feeding, fetching, manipulating objects, and personal care. [52]

Helper monkeys are usually trained in schools by private organizations, taking seven years to train, and are able to serve 25–30 years (two to three times longer than a guide dog). [53]

In 2010, the U.S. federal government revised its definition of service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Non-human primates are no longer recognized as service animals under the ADA. [54] The American Veterinary Medical Association does not support the use of non-human primates as assistance animals because of animal welfare concerns, the potential for serious injury to people, and risks that primates may transfer dangerous diseases to humans. [55]

In experiments

The most common monkey species found in animal research are the grivet, the rhesus macaque, and the crab-eating macaque, which are either wild-caught or purpose-bred. [56] [57] They are used primarily because of their relative ease of handling, their fast reproductive cycle (compared to apes) and their psychological and physical similarity to humans. Worldwide, it is thought that between 100,000 and 200,000 non-human primates are used in research each year, [57] 64.7% of which are Old World monkeys, and 5.5% New World monkeys. [58] This number makes a very small fraction of all animals used in research. [57] Between 1994 and 2004 the United States has used an average of 54,000 non-human primates, while around 10,000 non-human primates were used in the European Union in 2002. [58]

In space

Sam, a rhesus macaque, was flown to a height of 55 miles (89 km) by NASA in 1959 Monkey Sam Before The Flight On Little Joe 2.jpg
Sam, a rhesus macaque, was flown to a height of 55 miles (89 km) by NASA in 1959

A number of countries have used monkeys as part of their space exploration programmes, including the United States and France. The first monkey in space was Albert II, who flew in the US-launched V-2 rocket on June 14, 1949. [59]

As food

Monkey brains are eaten as a delicacy in parts of South Asia, Africa and China. [60] Monkeys are sometimes eaten in parts of Africa, where they can be sold as "bushmeat". In traditional Islamic dietary laws, the eating of monkeys is forbidden. [61]


Illustration of Indian monkeys known as bandar from the illuminated manuscript Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur) Animals of Hindustan monkeys called bandar that can be taught to do tricks, from Illuminated manuscript Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur).jpg
Illustration of Indian monkeys known as bandar from the illuminated manuscript Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur)

Sun Wukong (the "Monkey King"), a character who figures prominently in Chinese mythology, is the protagonist in the classic comic Chinese novel Journey to the West .

Monkeys are prevalent in numerous books, television programs, and movies. The television series Monkey and the literary characters Monsieur Eek and Curious George are all examples.

Informally, "monkey" may refer to apes, particularly chimpanzees, gibbons, and gorillas. Author Terry Pratchett alludes to this difference in usage in his Discworld novels, in which the Librarian of the Unseen University is an orangutan who gets very violent if referred to as a monkey. Another example is the use of Simians in Chinese poetry.

The winged monkeys are prominent characters in L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books and in the 1939 film based on Baum's 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz .

Religion and worship

Abhinandananatha with his symbol of monkey below his idol Abhinandannath.jpg
Abhinandananatha with his symbol of monkey below his idol

Monkey is the symbol of fourth Tirthankara in Jainism, Abhinandananatha. [62] [63]

Hanuman, a prominent deity in Hinduism, is a human-like monkey god who is believed to bestow courage, strength and longevity to the person who thinks about him or Rama.

In Buddhism, the monkey is an early incarnation of Buddha but may also represent trickery and ugliness. The Chinese Buddhist "mind monkey" metaphor refers to the unsettled, restless state of human mind. Monkey is also one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolizing greed, with the tiger representing anger and the deer lovesickness.

The Sanzaru, or three wise monkeys, are revered in Japanese folklore; together they embody the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". [64]

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature. [65] They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted monkeys in their art. [66]

The Tzeltal people of Mexico worshipped monkeys as incarnations of their dead ancestors.


Monkeys as Judges of Art, an ironical 1889 painting by Gabriel von Max. Gabriel Cornelius von Max, 1840-1915, Monkeys as Judges of Art, 1889.jpg
Monkeys as Judges of Art, an ironical 1889 painting by Gabriel von Max.

The Monkey (猴) is the ninth in the twelve-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The next time that the monkey will appear as the zodiac sign will be in the year 2028. [67]

See also


  1. When Carl Linnaeus defined the genus Simia in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, it included all non-human monkeys and apes (simians). [2] Although "monkey" was never a taxonomic name, and is instead a vernacular name for a paraphyletic group, its members fall under the infraorder Simiiformes.

Related Research Articles

Primate Order of mammals

A primate is a eutherian mammal constituting the taxonomic order Primates. Primates arose 85–55 million years ago first from small terrestrial mammals, which adapted to living in the trees of tropical forests: many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging environment, including large brains, visual acuity, color vision, a shoulder girdle allowing a large degree of movement in the shoulder joint, and dextrous hands. Primates range in size from Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, which weighs 30 g (1 oz), to the eastern gorilla, weighing over 200 kg (440 lb). There are 190–448 species of living primates, depending on which classification is used. New primate species continue to be discovered: over 25 species were described in the 2000s, and 11 since 2010.

Ape Branch of primate

Apes are a branch of Old World tailless simians native to Africa and Southeast Asia. They are the sister group of the Old World monkeys, together forming the catarrhine clade. They are distinguished from other primates by a wider degree of freedom of motion at the shoulder joint as evolved by the influence of brachiation. In traditional and non-scientific use, the term "ape" excludes humans, and can include tailless primates taxonomically considered monkeys, and is thus not equivalent to the scientific taxon Hominoidea. There are two extant branches of the superfamily Hominoidea: the gibbons, or lesser apes; and the hominids, or great apes.

New World monkey Parvorder of mammals

New World monkeys are the five families of primates that are found in the tropical regions of Mexico, Central and South America: Callitrichidae, Cebidae, Aotidae, Pitheciidae, and Atelidae. The five families are ranked together as the Ceboidea, the only extant superfamily in the parvorder Platyrrhini . Platyrrhini means broad-nosed, and their noses are flatter than those of other simians, with sideways-facing nostrils. Monkeys in the family Atelidae, such as the spider monkey, are the only primates to have prehensile tails. New World monkeys' closest relatives are the other simians, the Catarrhini ("down-nosed"), comprising Old World monkeys and apes. New World monkeys descend from African simians that colonized South America, a line that split off about 40 million years ago.

Catarrhini Group of Old World monkeys and apes

The parvorder Catarrhini, catarrhine monkeys or Old World anthropoids are the sister group to the New World monkeys, the Platyrrhini. The Platyrrhini emerged within "monkeys" by migration to South America from Afro-Arabia, likely by ocean. With respect to the ones that stayed behind, Geoffroy in 1812 grouped the apes (Hominoidea) and the Cercopithecoidea together and established the name Catarrhini, "Old World monkeys",. There has been some resistance to directly designate apes as monkeys despite the scientific evidence, so "Old World monkey" may be taken to mean the Cercopithecoidea or the Catarrhini. That apes are monkeys was already realized by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in the 18th century. The apes are further divided into the lesser apes or gibbons and the great apes, consisting of the orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. The Catarrhini are all native to Africa and Asia. Members of this parvorder are called catarrhines.

Strepsirrhini A suborder of primates which includes lemurs, galagos, pottos and lorises

Strepsirrhini or Strepsirhini is a suborder of primates that includes the lemuriform primates, which consist of the lemurs of Madagascar, galagos ("bushbabies") and pottos from Africa, and the lorises from India and southeast Asia. Collectively they are referred to as strepsirrhines. Also belonging to the suborder are the extinct adapiform primates which thrived during the Eocene in Europe, North America, and Asia, but disappeared from most of the Northern Hemisphere as the climate cooled. Adapiforms are sometimes referred to as being "lemur-like", although the diversity of both lemurs and adapiforms does not support this comparison.

Prosimian Obsolete primate taxon

Prosimians are a group of primates that includes all living and extinct strepsirrhines, as well as the haplorhine tarsiers and their extinct relatives, the omomyiforms, i.e. all primates excluding the simians. They are considered to have characteristics that are more "primitive" than those of simians.

Haplorhini Suborder of primates

Haplorhini, the haplorhines or the "dry-nosed" primates, is a suborder of primates containing the tarsiers and the simians, as sister of the Strepsirrhini ("moist-nosed"). The name is sometimes spelled Haplorrhini. The simians include catarrhines, and the platyrrhines.

Tarsiiformes Group of primates

Tarsiiformes are a group of primates that once ranged across Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and North America, but whose extant species are all found in the islands of Southeast Asia. Tarsiers are the only living members of the infraorder, and also include the extinct Tarsius eocaenus from the Eocene and Tarsius thailandicus from the Miocene. Two extinct genera, Xanthorhysis and Afrotarsius, are considered to be close relatives of the living tarsiers and are generally classified within Tarsiiformes, with the former grouped within family Tarsiidae and the latter listed as incertae sedis (undefined). Omomyids are generally considered to be extinct relatives, or even ancestors, of the living tarsiers and are often classified within Tarsiiformes. Other fossil primates, which include Microchoeridae, Carpolestidae, and Eosimiidae, have been included in this classification, although the fossil evidence is debated. Eosimiidae has also been classified under the infraorder Simiiformes. Likewise, Carpolestidae is often classified within the order Plesiadapiformes, a very close, extinct relative of primates. These conflicting classifications lie at the heart of the debate over early primate evolution. Even the placement of Tarsiiformes within suborder Haplorhini is still debated.

Simian Infraorder of primates

The simians, anthropoids or higher primates are an infraorder of primates containing the parvorders Platyrrhini and Catarrhini, the latter of which consists of the superfamilies Cercopithecoidea and Hominoidea.

<i>Aegyptopithecus</i> Extinct single-species genus of primate

Aegyptopithecus is an early fossil catarrhine that predates the divergence between hominoids (apes) and cercopithecids. It is known from a single species, Aegyptopithecus zeuxis, which lived around 38-29.5 million years ago in the early part of the Oligocene epoch. It likely resembled modern-day New World monkeys, and was about the same size as a modern howler monkey, which is about 56 to 92 cm long. Aegyptopithecus fossils have been found in the Jebel Qatrani Formation of modern-day Egypt. Aegyptopithecus is believed to be a stem-catarrhine, a crucial link between Eocene and Miocene fossils.

<i>Eosimias</i> Extinct genus of primates

Eosimias is a genus of early primates, first discovered and identified in 1999 from fossils collected in the Shanghuang fissure-fillings of Liyang, the southern s=city of Jiangsu Province, China. It is a part of the family Eosimiidae, and includes three known species: Eosimias sinensis, Eosimias centennicus, and Eosimias dawsonae. It provides us with a glimpse of a primate skeleton similar to that of the common ancestor of the Haplorhini. The name Eosimias is designed to mean "dawn monkey", from Greek eos "dawn" and Latin simius "monkey".

Oligopithecus is a fossil primate that lived in Africa during the Early Oligocene. It is represented by one species, Oligopithecus savagei, known from one jaw bone found in Egypt.

Oligopithecidae is an extinct basal Catarrhine family from the late Eocene of Egypt as sister of the rest of the Catarrhines. Its members were probably insectivorous due to their simple molars and cusp arrangement.

<i>Darwinius</i> Extinct genus of primates

Darwinius is a genus within the infraorder Adapiformes, a group of basal strepsirrhine primates from the middle Eocene epoch. Its only known species, Darwinius masillae, lived approximately 47 million years ago based on dating of the fossil site.

<i>Saadanius</i> Extinct genus of primates

Saadanius is a genus of fossil primate dating to the Oligocene that is closely related to the common ancestor of the Old World monkeys and apes, collectively known as catarrhines. It is represented by a single species, Saadanius hijazensis, which is known only from a single partial skull tentatively dated between 29 and 28 million years ago. It was discovered in 2009 in western Saudi Arabia near Mecca and was first described in 2010 after a comparison with both living and fossil catarrhines.

Parapithecidae is an extinct family of primates which lived in the Eocene and Oligocene periods in Egypt. Eocene fossils from Myanmar are sometimes included in the family in addition. They showed certain similarities in dentition to Condylarthra, but had short faces and jaws shaped like those of tarsiers. They are part of the superfamily Parapithecoidea, perhaps equally related to Ceboidea and Cercopithecoidea plus Hominoidea - but the placement of Parapithecoidea is substantially uncertain.

<i>Anapithecus</i> Extinct genus of primates

Anapithecus is a late Miocene primate known from fossil locations in Hungary and Austria. Many Anapithecus fossils come from the site of Rudabánya, in northern Hungary, where Anapithecus lived alongside the ape Rudapithecus'. Anapithecus hernyaki is named after Mr. Gabor Hernyák, chief geologist of the Iron Ore Works of Rudabánya.

Evolution of primates The origin and diversification of primates through geologic time

The evolutionary history of the primates can be traced back 57-85/90 million years. One of the oldest known primate-like mammal species, Plesiadapis, came from North America; another, Archicebus, came from China. Other similar basal primates were widespread in Eurasia and Africa during the tropical conditions of the Paleocene and Eocene. Purgatorius is the genus of the four extinct species believed to be the earliest example of a primate or a proto-primate, a primatomorph precursor to the Plesiadapiformes, dating to as old as 66 million years ago.

The family Dendropithecidae is an extinct family of catarrhine monkeys. They date from the Early Miocene, around 20 - 12 million years ago.

The Amphipithecidae were simian primates that lived in Late Eocene and Early Oligocene. Fossils have been found in Myanmar, Thailand, and Pakistan. The limited fossil evidence is consistent with, but not exclusive to, arboreal quadrupedalism. In other words, the species may have moved about in trees on four legs, but not with regular leaping as seen in later simians.


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Literature cited

Further reading