I am sure that we are all familiar with “Curious George,” who has always been labeled as a monkey, but he is an ape; a chimpanzee to be exact. Chimpanzees have to be the most well known primate, but are always addressed as monkeys. Reasons may be because of how they act and how we humans interact with them. The most probable reason why they were seen as monkeys is because in circuses they are put in situations that we have come to see doable by monkeys alone (ex. “monkey on a bike). But the situations we put chimpanzees in does not change the fact that it is an ape. There are several physical traits that make an ape an ape. First up is the way the face looks. For apes they have a broad nose, while monkeys have a narrow nose. Then there is body size. Apes generally have a larger body; you have never seen a gorilla mistaken for monkey. This trait you can see right away, but the next one you have to pay very close attention. That is the length of the trunk. Apes have a shorter trunk, but some, the gibbon for example, have longer arms than legs. Now one way that apes are very different from monkeys is their behaviour. It is a more complex behaviour, similar to our own. Let us go back to the chimpanzee. These apes use tools to obtain food such as a stick for ants, or a rock to break open nuts. Unlike many other apes whose diet is exclusively made up of fruits, vegetables, and leaves, the chimpanzee, who does not only share much of their genetic makeup with us humans, they are also omnivores, meaning they also eat meat. Now, if just using tools does not make them complex enough they also prepare some of their food. “They chew some fruits to form little fruit-balls, called “wadges,” and then dip them in water before sucking out the juice.” The chimpanzee also form “lifelong attachments” with other chimpanzees they see as family and friends. With chimpanzee mothers and their young they are, again, much like us humans. Reason for this is because the period of infancy is increased so their offspring are dependent on not only their mother, but the group, for food and protection. But this fact is true for all apes; whether they be chimpanzees or gorillas or orangutans.
Now do you see how silly it was to call apes monkeys? So you would think that to tell monkeys apart you would just have to take the opposites of the ape traits. This is true, but there are two classes of monkeys. One is old world monkeys and the other new world monkeys. Even though these two are called monkeys they are completely different. I will start with old world monkeys. These monkeys are the most distributed. They inhabit the area from west Africa, to India, to Indonesia, to the Philippines, and Japan. Most of these are quadrupedal and arboreal and some have adapted in a way that they can live comfortably on the ground. This is a reason why Old World monkeys have hardened skin on their buttocks that serve as sitting pads. They also have pouches in their cheeks to store food, which are mature leaves. If you remember that chimpanzees are...family oriented, Old World monkeys have one of two social structures. In one they live in small groups with one or two adult males, the other is a large group of several adults of both sexes and offspring of many ages. In these Old World monkey groups monogamy is not common. With New World monkeys their social make up is of mixed sex group and some form monogamous pairs in which they live with their offspring. Also unlike Old World monkeys New World monkeys almost never get to the ground, they live in the trees. And, of course, when living in the trees they have to be light, so many, if not all, New World monkeys (capuchin or squirrel monkey) are much smaller than Old World monkeys (baboons). Also because they have not any access to the ground their food are mostly fruits and nuts. New World Monkeys inhabit half of Mexico, all of Central America, and most of South America. Throughout these differences between Old and New World monkeys, the fact is...they are all monkeys. Saying that I mean is the trees equals home for them.
As I said at the beginning of this blog, the tail is a main difference between apes and monkeys. Apes have no tail while monkeys do. But, as I said, does the tail make the monkey? There is a species of macaque, the Barbary macaque, that has no tail, but other macaques are under the label of “monkey.” Should not having a tail make this species of macaque an ape? This is still under dispute. As a matter of fact, there are some humans with either an elongated or angled coccyx (tail bone), which gives them a look as if they have a tail. So should those humans be marked as monkeys? But all in all, whether it be an ape, a monkey, or a human we are all under the same family called primates.
Please feel free to comment on what you thought of the blog, or other physical anthropological subjects you would like me to cover.