Monkeys are such relatable and intelligent creatures. Their closest resemblance to humans of all the world's animals makes them pretty interesting. The world has about 200 types of monkeys; they come in varying shapes, sizes, and colors. Some monkey breeds are the size of your palm. Monkeys, as many types there are, fall into two major groups; old-world monkeys and new-world monkeys. This article explores both worlds, featuring some of the most remarkable types of monkeys.
Monkeys differ from 'the great apes' in that apes have no tails, and monkeys usually always have one. They can walk on all fours or sit upright. They can also walk bipedally and stand somewhat upright but rarely do. Some monkeys have claws, others have nails, and others have a mix of both. Most monkeys have five digits on each limb, but spider monkeys are an exception.
Most monkeys live in trees, but many old-world monkeys prefer to stay on the ground. Monkeys, generally, are social animals and often move in troops, with the number of members varying from a couple to hundreds. Monkeys are primarily omnivores, consuming a proportionally varied diet of tubers, fruits, plant shoots, roots, insects, bird eggs, and small animals.
An old-world monkey is any monkey species that originate from Africa or Asia. We can find them in France, Gibraltar, Belau, Mauritius, and some islands in the West Indies, thanks to human introduction.
Old-world species of monkeys belong to a single family (Cercopithecidae) and share some general characteristics. For example, they lack strong gripping (prehensile) tails, their arms and legs are similar lengths, and they have downward pointed noses.
The mona monkey is an old-world monkey species from the guenon group of African monkeys commonly found between Ghana and Cameroon. Slave traders introduced them to the island of Grenada in the 18th century, where a wild population of mona monkeys still exists1. It is closely related to other species like the crested guenon, wolf's guenon, and Campbell's monkey, which people sometimes call monas too, but as a loose classification.
The mona monkey has a thick speckled red-brown fur coat on the outer parts of its body and white fur on the underparts of its body. A distinct band of white fur across its forehead and a thin stripe of very dark fur on the sides of its face characterizes the mona monkey. It also has two white splotches of fur on either side of its tail. These old-world monkeys grow to about 53 cm with 90 cm long tails. They have cheek pouches almost as large as their stomach for storing food for later consumption.
The olive baboon is native to African countries; its habitat stretches to the Arabian peninsula. These old-world monkeys are one of the most widely distributed species in the monkey world. An olive baboon has an olive-colored coat, with the males having a large mane over the head and shoulders. Olive baboons are decent tree climbers even without a prehensile tail; their tails have a sort of broken appearance.
Olive baboons live in groups of tens to hundreds, and the males and females compete for dominance amongst members of their sex. Additionally, strong friendship ties develop between males and females. A male olive baboon may protect his female friends in agonistic encounters with other females7. Like most baboon species, these types of monkeys can be very aggressive towards humans and animals, and we know them to have raided farmlands.
We also know the Barbary macaque as Barbary magot or Barbary ape. This old-world monkey is a practically tailless monkey that dwells primarily on land. We find it in the upland forests of Morocco, Algeria, and Gibraltar (artificially introduced). Barbary macaques used to live in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya but not anymore; they have been poached to extinction in those countries. The IUCN lists them as endangered species.
The Barbary macaque is the only other non-human primate found north of the Sahara. Its ginger-colored thick fur and powder pink face make it one of the most coveted exotic pets.
Barbary macaques have an interesting societal dynamic with strong ties11. They live in mixed-gender groups, and both males and females care for the young. Perhaps because of the closeness of their communities, Barbary macaques don't do so well in captivity. However, they have a lifespan of 20 years.
The rhesus macaque or rhesus monkey ranges through a significant part of Asia. There is also an introduced population in Florida. These species of old-world monkeys are incredibly adaptative. They can survive in various habitats. In some cases, such as in India, where they are regarded as sacred animals, these monkeys get used to living in human communities.
Medical science values the rhesus macaque for its usefulness in researching human diseases. They determine the rhesus factor of human blood using antigens from the blood of these monkeys5. The rhesus monkey was also the first primate to go to space.
They have primarily sandy fur, but their rump and legs are reddish. Rhesus macaque troops can have as many as 200 individuals, and their troops are led mainly by female members. These monkeys can swim and climb efficiently but prefer to spend most of their time on the ground.
Also called the snow monkey, the Japanese macaque is an old-world monkey native to Japan. They typically live in the Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku islands of Japan, an area covered in snow for most of the year. These monkeys bathe in hot springs heated by volcanoes nearby to keep warm. These intelligent primates exhibit quick learning via cultural transmission.
A male Japanese macaque is twice as large as its female counterparts. However, both genders have short tails and have grey to brown coats. In summer, they molt, and their fur coat becomes less thick. Japanese macaques are one of those types of monkeys that have hairless faces. They move around on all fours but can walk bipedally too. Snow monkeys can live for up to 32 years, although their average lifespan is between 22 to 27 years.
These monkeys are also called the long-tailed macaque of Southeast Asia. They live in habitats like coastal forests, mangroves, riverine, and swamps, with easy access to fruits and fish. They eat crabs and other crustaceans, but those do not make up the larger percentage of their diet. Crab-eating monkeys spend their time in trees, except when fishing, and of all the macaque species, they are the most tree-dwelling.
Crab-eating monkeys have reddish to brown-grey fur. They have whiskers on their cheeks. We have known these monkeys to thrive in great numbers and even colonize plantations.
Today, the IUCN lists their population status as 'endangered,' a significant change from 'least concern' in 2008. The population decline of this rare species can be attributed to the invasive nature of the crab-eating macaque, as it made it seem like the species was impervious to extinction. So people have hunted and exterminated them like pests.
Mandrills are the peacocks of the primate world, with splashes of red, blue, purple, white, and pink hues on the faces and buttocks of the males. The females are less colorful and smaller than the males.
Mandrills have bright red noses with white semi-circles on either side. The dominant males have the brightest colored bumps because non-dominant males have to repress color development6. When a non-dominant male gains dominion, his colors become brighter due to increased testosterone.
Mandrills are the largest of all types of monkeys, growing to 90 cm and weighing up to 77 pounds. Their canines are significantly longer, like that of big cats, and they have cheek pouches.
These central African natives live in troops of a dozen or so females with one dominant male. Sometimes, several troops come together and form a horde of over 200 individuals. They spend most of their time on the ground but climb trees to sleep.
Vervet monkeys are native to Eastern and Southern Africa. There are five other species in its genus, and they are all referred to as vervet, but the name vervet belongs to Chlorocebus pygerythrus, specifically.
Another name for the vervet monkey is the 'black-chinned monkey.' Male vervet monkeys are slightly bigger than females. A group of vervet monkeys could have as many as 75 individuals comprising multiple males and females.
They have dark faces covered with olive or grey fur, but the tail tip is black. Their short cheek whiskers connect to a white browband that encircles their face. The male vervet monkey has a bluish coloration on the abdomen. It also has a bright turquoise-blue scrotum and a red penis—all the other males from the genus share this unique feature. Vervet monkeys are a sight to see, and how great it is that they are friendly to humans.
We find blue monkeys in the Congo basin and southern, eastern, and central African rain forests. They like to live in areas with abundant water and tall trees that provide deep shade. They mostly stay in trees, eating fruits and leaves but consume worms and slugs too. They have cheek pouches to store food in while foraging.
The blue monkey has a row of forward-pointing white fur above its brow line. It looks like a fur tiara. That's why people also call them the diademed monkeys.
Blue monkeys are small and weigh 6 kg at most, but males are slightly larger than females. They live in groups of 10 to 40, and each group has only one male. Often blue monkeys will socialize with other monkey species in the area while foraging. The association is also an advantage against predators or in fights with other groups.
The black snub-nosed monkey is native to the Yunnan province of southern china. They also call it the black and white snub-nosed monkey or the Yunnan monkey. Black snub-nosed monkeys live in coniferous forests at elevations of over 4,000 meters above sea level. Snow covers their habitat for most of the year.
A troop of black snub-nosed monkeys can be up to 500 individuals; apart from humans, no other primates form such large societies.
It has black fur on its back, tail, and limbs, but white fur covers the area around its face, stomach, and rump. The monkeys have a small patch of long forward curling fur on their crown. Black snub-nosed monkeys eat lichen besides flowers and other vegetation. They travel and forage on the ground. Black snub-nosed monkeys are endangered due to clearing forests for wood or farming12, poaching, and unintentional trapping.
Chacma baboons range through much of southern Africa. Their choice of habitats includes wooded highlands, grassland steppe, and savanna. They consider the availability of water and sleeping sites to determine their roving range. These monkeys don't climb or sleep on trees, preferring to walk on all fours on the ground and lay down on cliffs and rocks at night. Chacma baboons travel in troops of 20 to 80 members.
The chacma baboon has a dog-like snout, long limbs, and a short tail. It may have gray or olive-brown fur. Chacma baboons have tufts of fur around their faces and necks.
The female dominance hierarchy is quite interesting. High-ranking females pass along their status and its accompanying privileges to their descendants, much like royal titles. Another interesting observation is the closeness between related female chacma baboons8. Not only do mothers protect their kids, but they also protect their nieces and grandchildren too.
Another name for the proboscis monkey is the long-nosed monkey. Male proboscis monkeys have very large, long noses that hang past their chin. The nose of the females are not as large, but it still stands out. Male long-nosed monkeys can weigh about 20 kg, but females weigh almost half as much. The coat of the proboscis monkey is red around the head, brown on the back, and grey on the limbs and tails.
People viewed the proboscis monkey as a special and divine animal in ancient Egypt. Today, you can find the proboscis monkey in Borneo2, an island in Southeast Asia, living among the orangutan population on the island. The proboscis monkey stays in swampy, riverine, and coastal mangrove habitats. It is tree-dwelling and sleeps in the trees near the water. Proboscis monkeys have partially webbed feet and hands, making them great swimmers. They also have chambered stomachs like cows or goats.
The red leaf monkey is distinct from old-world monkeys because of its crimson, deep red, or red-orange fur. The fur is where its name comes from, and they also call it the maroon monkey, marron surili, or maroon langur. Their faces are grey or bluish grey with pale lower lips. Like other Asian leaf monkeys, they have chambered stomachs like cows to digest their mainly foliage diet. They also eat the topsoil of termite mounds to get nutrients like calcium and magnesium.
These monkeys are native to Borneo island in Southeast Asia, and we can find them in any of the three countries on the island. They are primarily arboreal, moving through trees on all fours rather than swinging from tree to tree.
A band of red leaf monkeys may have just two members or up to 13 individuals, led by dominant males. The rate of deforestation to establish oil palm plantations and hunting has made the red leaf monkey an endangered monkey.
The new world monkey species are the types of monkeys native to Mexico, central, and south America. They comprise five families and are called platyrrhines, which means flat-nosed.
New world monkeys have broad noses with nostrils pointing sideways. Some new world monkeys have prehensile tails that can support their entire body weight as they swing from tree to tree. They can even pick up tiny objects like a peanut with their tails.
The night monkeys are so named because of their nocturnal nature. People also call them owl monkeys or durukuli/douroucouli. We find them in central and south America living in wet and dry tropical forests across Argentina to Panama. Night monkeys are small, weighing only about 2.7 pounds. They have a round head, small ears, and big yellow and brown eyes. They have a non-prehensile bushy tail, almost as long as their bodies. Their looks may remind you of a bat.
Night monkeys are monogamous and live in families of two to five members. A father night monkey takes an active role in caring for the young ones. These monkeys sleep in tree hollows or vine tangles in the daytime and emerge to forage for food at night. During winter, they come out for short periods of the day. The exact distinct species and subspecies of night monkeys are still under investigation. However, known species are very similar in appearance and habits.
The spider monkey genus has about 11 species and 8 subspecies, and we know these types of monkeys for their tree acrobatics.
The black-handed spider monkey is also called Geoffroy's or Central American spider monkey. The monkey has very long limbs and a longer tail. Its prehensile tail is longer than its slender body. The tail is extremely strong and can support the monkey's weight as they hang from branches with just their tails10. Black-handed spider monkeys have four long fingers on their hands that they use like hooks as they swing along.
The Geoffroy's spider monkey has black, tan, or brown fur on its back parts and pale hair on its chest and belly. The forearms and legs sometimes have black fur. They have dark faces with rings of unpigmented skin around the eyes. These monkeys can bark like dogs when threatened by predators. The Central American spider monkey is an endangered species. Like many other new world monkeys, humans hunt them for food or cut down the trees that shelter them.
This new world monkey is a beauty to behold; its bright red-gold thick fur is striking. The golden lion tamarin is native to South America, and people also call it the golden marmoset. Golden lion tamarins have a full-back swept mane that frames their dark faces. They are small and weigh about 29 ounces at most; their head and body length are around 10 to 13 inches. They have long tails that grow longer than their bodies.
Golden lion tamarin monkeys remain high up in trees and sleep in tree holes. They live in monogamous and playful family units of 2 to 8 members. In the early 1970s, their population was critically endangered, with only 200 individuals. However, committed conservation efforts have helped to revive the golden lion tamarin population, but they are still an endangered species.
The emperor tamarin has a long white sweeping mustache which is its whiskers. Its name comes from an alleged resemblance to the German emperor, Wilhelm II, who had a similar mustache. They have dark fur on their faces and ears, their bodies are covered with grey fur, and their long tails are golden-red. Emperor tamarins have claws on their toes and fingers, except for their big toes.
Native to the southwest amazon basin, they live in wooded habitats and even seasonal flooded forests. Emperor tamarins live in groups with one female, a few breeding males, and their young. The adult males assist in the birthing process. They also bathe the newborns, carrying and caring for them until they are about seven weeks old. The Smithsonian's national zoological park has an emperor tamarin and says their lifespan is 10 to 20 years.
The cotton-top tamarin is a new world monkey with an intriguing social life. The northwest Columbia natives breed in monogamous pairs but raise their young with cooperative nurturing. Non-breeding adults will stay with a breeding family to help them care for their young ones while gaining breeding experience4. This benefits the stability of their population because the females always give birth to twins, each with about 20% of the mother's weight. The mother will need all the help she can get.
Cotton-top tamarins have a crest of white long white fur from their forehead to the back of their necks. Their back is brown, and their front ranges from white to pale yellow fur. They are one of the smallest monkeys; they measure 10 inches and weigh 20 ounces at most. They do have claws on all their digits. Their small size and exotic fur make them targets for the illegal pet trade and for clinical experiments. These monkeys are critically endangered.
Playful, curious, intelligent brown capuchin monkeys or tufted capuchins are quite popular. They learn tricks quickly, so you may have seen them in a circus show or movie. Brown capuchins were popular as 'organ grinders.' People have trained them to perform simple tasks for disabled people. In the wild, brown capuchins allow squirrel monkeys to follow them around while they forage for food9; it saves the latter time.
Brown capuchin monkeys have fur ranging from black to light brown to mustard yellow. They have tufts of coarse black fur that look like a cap on the crown of their head. They also have sideburns that may frame the entire face. They keep their prehensile tails in a tight coil. The Brown capuchin monkey is native to south and central America. They live in humid tropical and subtropical forests, dry forests, and disturbed and secondary forests. They are arboreal but come down to find food and play.
We also call these new world monkeys common squirrel monkeys. They range throughout South America except for the southeast coastal forests of Brazil. The adult squirrel monkey has about 12 inches of body length and a long tail of about 16 inches. Their fur is grey on most parts of their body, but their limbs have mustard yellow fur. The males have large upper canines that females lack.
The common squirrel monkey will often rest its tail curled over one shoulder. When they aren't resting, they are probably leaping through the forest trees. Their social group can consist of as many as 300 monkeys. Squirrel monkey groups don't usually fight over territories and mutually respect each other's space. They may even socialize with different groups of the same species for a short period.
Pygmy marmosets are the smallest monkeys in the world13. These new world monkeys weigh about 4 ounces in adulthood, and their body is just about 5 inches long. They can fit in the palm of your hand. The pygmy marmoset's tail grows longer than its body; it can be as long as 7.8 inches. It has brown fur with yellow marks on its back, a yellow and brown ringed tail, and a soft golden brown mane. The pygmy marmoset has claws on all its digits except the big toes.
Because their small size makes them easy prey for hawks and wild cats, these new world monkeys live in the mid-levels of tree canopies. Commonly, the pygmy marmoset lives in a monogamous family group of 2 to 6 members but sometimes, with more than one adult male in a group, polyandry occurs.
We also know these new world monkeys as 'Humboldt woolly monkey' or common woolly monkey. They are native to the South American rainforest of the Amazon lowlands. Brown woolly monkeys have thick, sturdy bodies covered with short, full, and thick fur. Depending on the subspecies, the fur color can be brown, grey, olive, or tan. In most brown woolly monkeys, their big round head has much darker fur. Just like spider monkeys, they have long prehensile tails and long arms.
These charismatic new world monkeys spend most of their lives in trees, moving from tree to tree in a slow and relaxed manner. They are not always slow and can increase their speed to escape predators. These gentle wild animals are not territorial and will share their foraging grounds even in times of scarcity. The IUCN lists them as a vulnerable species due to extensive hunting for food and the pet trade.
These South American new world monkeys are the loudest land animal in the western hemisphere. They have a sizeable hyoid bone (Adam's apple) and larynx that makes that possible. You can hear the call of a black howler monkey from a 3 miles distance3. Black howler monkeys are born with blond fur, which the females maintain for life. The males, however, grow black fur as they mature. They also have full fur beards framing their faces.
Black howler monkeys depend on their prehensile tails and grasping feet for movement. That is because they cannot move their arm when making the loud call we know them for. The black howler monkey howls every morning to notify other groups of their exact location so that they can maintain a respectable distance. These monkeys rarely come down from the trees but will do so in dry times to find water sources.
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Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
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