Old World monkey

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Old World monkeys [1]
Temporal range: Oligocene–Recent
Olive baboon Ngorongoro.jpg
Olive baboon (Papio anubis)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Parvorder: Catarrhini
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Family: Cercopithecidae
Gray, 1821 [2]
Type genus
Linnaeus, 1758

Cercopithecinae - 12 genera
Colobinae - 11 genera
sister: Hominoidea


Old World monkey is the common English name for a family of primates known taxonomically as the Cercopithecidae /ˌsɜːrkpɪˈθɛsɪd/ . Twenty-four genera and 138 species are recognized, making it the largest primate family. Old World monkey genera include baboons (genus Papio ) and macaques (genus Macaca ). Common names for other Old World monkeys include the talapoin, guenon, colobus, douc (douc langur, genus Pygathrix ), vervet, gelada, mangabey (a group of genera), langur, mandrill, surili ( Presbytis ), patas, and proboscis monkey. Phylogenetically, they are more closely related to apes than to New World monkeys. They diverged from a common ancestor of New World monkeys around 45 to 55 million years ago. [3]

The smallest Old World monkey is the talapoin, with a head and body 34–37 cm in length, and weighing between 0.7 and 1.3 kg. The largest is the male mandrill, around 70 cm in length, and weighing up to 50 kg. [4] Old World monkeys have a variety of facial features; some have snouts, some are flat nosed, and many exhibit coloration. Most have tails, but they are not prehensile.

Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia today, inhabiting numerous environments: tropical rain forests, savannas, shrublands, and mountainous terrain. They inhabited much of Europe in the past; today, the only survivors in Europe are the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar. Whether they are native to Gibraltar or were brought by humans is unknown.

Some Old World monkeys are arboreal, such as the colobus monkeys; others are terrestrial, such as the baboons. Most are at least partially omnivorous, but all prefer plant matter, which forms the bulk of their diets. Most are highly opportunistic, primarily eating fruit, but also consuming almost any food items available, such as flowers, leaves, bulbs and rhizomes, insects, snails, small mammals, [4] and garbage and handouts from humans.


A male rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) Rhesus Macaque, Red Fort, Agra, India.jpg
A male rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta)
Young collared mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus). Cercocebus torquatus, Colchester Zoo, Essex, England - 20080211.jpg
Young collared mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus).
Black-footed gray langur, (Semnopithecus hypoleucos) Semnopithecus hypoleucos.JPG
Black-footed gray langur, (Semnopithecus hypoleucos)
Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) NILGIRI LANGUR (Trachypithecus johnii).jpg
Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii)

Two subfamilies are recognized, the Cercopithecinae, which are mainly African, but include the diverse genus of macaques, which are Asian and North African, and the Colobinae, which includes most of the Asian genera, but also the African colobus monkeys.

The Linnaean classification beginning with the superfamily is:


Paracolobus chemeroni fossil Paracolobus chemeroni.JPG
Paracolobus chemeroni fossil

The distinction between apes and monkeys is complicated by the traditional paraphyly of monkeys: Apes emerged as a sister group of Old World monkeys in the catarrhines, which are a sister group of New World monkeys. Therefore, cladistically, apes, catarrhines and related contemporary extinct groups, such as Parapithecidae, are monkeys as well, for any consistent definition of "monkey".

"Old World monkey" may also legitimately be taken to be meant to include all the catarrhines, including apes and extinct species such as Aegyptopithecus , [5] in which case the apes, Cercopithecoidea and Aegyptopithecus as well as (under an even more expanded definition) even the Platyrrhini [6] emerged within the Old World monkeys.



Old World monkeys are medium to large in size, and range from arboreal forms, such as the colobus monkeys, to fully terrestrial forms, such as the baboons. The smallest is the talapoin, with a head and body 34–37 cm in length, and weighing between 0.7 and 1.3 kilograms, while the largest is the male mandrill (the females of the species being significantly smaller), at around 70 cm in length, and weighing up to 50 kilograms. [4]


Most Old World monkeys have tails (the family name means "tailed ape"), unlike the tailless apes. The tails of Old World monkeys are not prehensile, as are those of the New World monkeys (platyrrhines).

The distinction of catarrhines from platyrrhines depends on the structure of the rhinarium, and the distinction of Old World monkeys from apes depends on dentition (the number of teeth is the same in both, but they are shaped differently). In platyrrhines, the nostrils face sideways, while in catarrhines, they face downward. Other distinctions include both a tubular ectotympanic (ear bone), and eight, not twelve, premolars in catarrhines, giving them a dental formula of:

Several Old World monkeys have anatomical oddities. For example, the colobus monkeys have stubs for thumbs to assist with their arboreal movement, the proboscis monkey has an extraordinary nose, while the snub-nosed monkeys have almost no nose at all.

The penis of the male mandrill is red and the scrotum is lilac; the face is also brightly colored. The coloration is more pronounced in dominant males. [7]

Behaviour and ecology


The Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia today, inhabiting numerous environments: tropical rain forests, savannas, shrublands, and mountainous terrain. They inhabited much of Europe during the Neogene period; [8] today the only survivors in Europe are the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar.


Most Old World monkeys are at least partially omnivorous, but all prefer plant matter, which forms the bulk of their diet. Leaf monkeys are the most vegetarian, subsisting primarily on leaves, and eating only a small number of insects, while the other species are highly opportunistic, primarily eating fruit, but also consuming almost any food items available, such as flowers, leaves, bulbs and rhizomes, insects, snails, and even small vertebrates. [4] The Barbary macaque's diet consists mostly of leaves and roots, though it will also eat insects and uses cedar trees as a water source. [9]

Gestation, birth, and rearing

Gestation in the Old World monkeys lasts between five and seven months. Births are usually single, although, as with humans, twins occur occasionally. The young are born relatively well-developed, and are able to cling onto their mother's fur with their hands from birth. Compared with most other mammals, they take a long time to reach sexual maturity, with four to six years being typical of most species.

Social systems

In most species, daughters remain with their mothers for life, so that the basic social group among Old World monkeys is a matrilineal troop. Males leave the group on reaching adolescence, and find a new troop to join. In many species, only a single adult male lives with each group, driving off all rivals, but others are more tolerant, establishing hierarchical relationships between dominant and subordinate males. Group sizes are highly variable, even within species, depending on the availability of food and other resources. [4]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gray langur Genus of Old World monkeys

Gray langurs, also called Hanuman langurs or Hanuman monkeys, are Old World monkeys native to the Indian subcontinent constituting the genus Semnopithecus. Traditionally only one species Semnopithecus entellus was recognized, but since about 2001, additional species have been recognized. The taxonomy has been in flux, but currently eight species are recognized.

Cercopithecinae Subfamily of Old World monkeys

The Cercopithecinae are a subfamily of the Old World monkeys, which comprises roughly 71 species, including the baboons, the macaques, and the vervet monkeys. Most cercopithecine monkeys are limited to sub-Saharan Africa, although the macaques range from the far eastern parts of Asia through northern Africa, as well as on Gibraltar.

Colobinae Subfamily of Old World monkeys

The Colobinae are a subfamily of the Old World monkey family that includes 61 species in 11 genera, including the black-and-white colobus, the large-nosed proboscis monkey, and the gray langurs. Some classifications split the colobine monkeys into two tribes, while others split them into three groups. Both classifications put the three African genera Colobus, Piliocolobus, and Procolobus in one group; these genera are distinct in that they have stub thumbs. The various Asian genera are placed into another one or two groups. Analysis of mtDNA confirms the Asian species form two distinct groups, one of langurs and the other of the "odd-nosed" species, but are inconsistent as to the relationships of the gray langurs; some studies suggest that the gray langurs are not closely related to either of these groups, while others place them firmly within the langur group.

Surili Genus of south-east Asian monkeys

The surilis are a group of Old World monkeys and make up the entirety of the genus Presbytis. They live in the Thai-Malay Peninsula, on Sumatra, Borneo, Java and smaller nearby islands. Besides surili, the common names for the monkeys in the genus also sometimes use the terms "langur" or "leaf monkey."

Mangabey Index of animals with the same common name

The term mangabey can refer to three different genera of Old World monkeys in the tribe Papionini.

Crested mangabey Genus of Old World monkeys

The crested mangabeys are West African Old World monkeys belonging to the genus Lophocebus. They tend to have dark skin, eyelids that match their facial skin, and crests of hair on their heads. Another genus of mangabeys, Cercocebus, was once thought to be very closely related, so much so that all the species were placed in one genus. However, Lophocebus species are now understood to be more closely related to the baboons in genus Papio, while the Cercocebus species are more closely related to the mandrill. In 2006, the highland mangabey was moved from Lophocebus to a new genus, Rungwecebus.

Nyungwe Forest

The Nyungwe Forest is located in southwestern Rwanda, on the border with Burundi, where it is contiguous with the Kibira National Park to the south, and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The Nyungwe rainforest is probably the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources.

Papionini Tribe of Old World monkeys

The Papionini are a tribe of Old World monkeys that includes several large monkey species, which include the macaques of North Africa and Asia, as well as the baboons, geladas, mangabeys, kipunji, drills, and mandrills, which are essentially from sub-Saharan Africa. It is typically divided into two subtribes: Macacina for the genus Macaca and its extinct relatives and the Papionina for all other genera.

Niger Delta red colobus Species of Old World monkey

The Niger Delta red colobus is a critically endangered species of colobus monkey endemic to the western part of the Niger Delta. It is threatened by hunting and habitat loss.

Hepatocystis is a genus of parasites transmitted by midges of the genus Culicoides. Hosts include Old World primates, bats, hippopotamus and squirrels. This genus is not found in the New World. The genus was erected by Levaditi and Schoen, 1932, as Hepatocystes.

Eastern Congolian swamp forests

The Eastern Congolian swamp forests are a fairly intact but underresearched ecoregion of the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests biome. It is located within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the eastern half of one of the largest areas of swamps in the world.

Primate families include 11 categories of this taxonomic rank, which include 57 genera and approximately 175 species. In attached list, there are shown in scientific (Latin) names of families and genera, with the usual names on the English and Bosnian language.


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