Monkeys are fascinating animals to watch and interact with. They are incredibly intelligent creatures and are very close relatives to humans. Just like humans, we classify monkeys as primates.
Primates have relatively larger brains than the size of their body and a higher degree of intelligence.
Monkeys come in different sizes, types, colors, and shapes. There are over 200 different species of monkeys all over the world. Read on as we explore 22 monkey facts that you will find fascinating.
Related: For a few more cheeky monkey moments and other inspiration as to what people are saying about monkeys, have a browse of our list of the best monkey quotes. We also have a monkey at number two in our list of the world’s ugliest animals!
These extraordinary creatures are classified into two main groups: Old World monkeys and New World monkeys. Old World monkeys, also known as Cercopithecidae, are the most prominent primate family. These species of monkeys live in Africa and Asia.
What’s peculiar about Old World monkeys is their downward-pointing nostrils. Also, many Old World monkeys have pouches in their cheeks for storing food. Old World monkeys include baboons, proboscis, mandrill, colobus, and patas monkeys.
On the other hand, New World monkeys live in North and South America. Their nose is flatter compared to that of the Old World Monkey. Examples of New World monkeys include spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, woolly monkeys, and howler monkeys.
Both Old World monkeys and New World monkeys have tails. However, each species has some distinctions. New World monkeys like spider and howler monkeys have prehensile (capable of grasping) tails. Some New World monkeys use their prehensile tails to hold objects and tree branches.
Old World monkey species have non-grasping and much shorter tails. The longest tail belongs to the female spider monkey. With a body length of about 2 feet long, these species can have a tail of 3 feet in length. Their tails can even carry their body weight and pick up objects like peanuts.
Most monkeys live in tropical regions of Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. New World monkeys stay in the tropical areas close to the Amazon rainforest in South America. Some also live in Northern and Southern Mexico.
The Old World monkeys live in rainforests, savannas, and mountains in Africa and Asia. Baboon monkeys live in savannas, wooded areas, and hillsides. The Gelada and golden monkeys live in the mountains, while vervet monkeys prefer to live near the lakes and streams. Typically monkeys live in trees, grassland, forests, mountains, and high plains in most parts of the world.
A group of monkeys is referred to as a troop, tribe, or mission. A troop consists of individual monkeys that live and travel together in search of food. They also work to take care of their young monkeys.
A troop typically has social structures. The most common is the one-male group. In this structure, one male monkey leads a group of female monkeys and can mate with all of them. However, other males seeking to overthrow him can threaten him. Examples of this troop structure include howler monkeys and patas monkeys. Traveling in troops also protects them from predators.
Human beings are not the only ones with opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs are needed for grasping and can rotate in different directions. They are rare among animals because most of them do not need thumbs to survive.
However, in some Old and New World monkeys, they are common. Old World monkeys like baboons, macaques, and grivets use their thumbs for holding onto trees and objects.
Few New World monkeys like the night monkey, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys have opposable thumbs. Other animals like koalas, apes, and chimp species also have opposable thumbs.
If you’ve ever heard monkey sounds, you would agree that they can be pretty loud. From screams to squawks and barks.
Did you know that the Squirrel monkey is one of the most vocal monkeys3, and these creatures can make at least 26 different sounds, including purrs, screamers, and more.
Squirrel monkeys eat nuts, leaves, insects, and small vertebrates. They are exceptional jumpers and runners and primarily live on trees. They are also very active during the day and sleep in a bunch together at night.
The Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, can be found in four regions in Japan. They are adaptable to various weathers and temperatures, including hot mountain springs, subtropical forests, and highlands.
Troops of Japanese Macaque monkeys go to the volcanic hot springs at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan for a hot relaxing bath. Interestingly, research has it that these hot baths help to reduce stress in these monkeys1.
Capuchin monkeys are known for being really intelligent. These monkeys are said to be skilled with tools. According to archaeological findings, the capuchin monkeys have been using tools for over 3000 years2.
Their tool skills have also evolved. The capuchin monkey will crack its nut open by placing the nuts on a stone and using another stone to break them open. What's more remarkable is that the capuchin monkey has been seen adjusting their tool size, using smaller rocks for the softer and smaller nuts.
These monkeys also exhibit some bizarre behaviors. A group of white-faced capuchin monkeys stick their fingers in one another’s noses and rub their furs on insects like Giant African Millipedes to repel other insects from them.
Yes, the rhesus monkey was the first primate in space, even before humans. The Rhesus monkey named Albert I was sent into space before humans to see how safe it was. Scientists needed to test their ability to launch a living creature into space and bring it back unharmed.
This monkey launch into space took place in 1948, June 11, in White Sands, New Mexico. Scientists also used other animals like chimps and dogs.
Monkeys sleep while sitting on trees. They choose their night perch, balancing on branches and sitting upright. They not only do this for comfort but also to hide away from predators.
Monkeys can sleep as long as 9.5 hours, which is much more than the typical 8-hour sleep for humans. Nocturnal night monkeys like owl monkeys sleep for as long as 17 hours a day. The owl monkey has large eyes and improved vision at night. They can also communicate with each other using scents.
In Hinduism, they believe in a human-like monkey god called Hanuman. People believe Hanuman to have commanded a monkey army. This god is also thought to have incredible powers and can bestow long life, strength, and courage to those that believe in him.
The Diana monkey also received its name due to its crescent-shaped brow, which looked like the bow of hunting goddess Diana.
These new species of monkeys, otherwise called the Burmese sneezing monkey or black snub-nosed monkey, sneeze uncontrollably when it rains.
Scientists first discovered these monkeys in 2010 in the Gaoligong Mountains in Myanmar. They have long black hairs, white ear tufts, a mustache, pale face, pink skin, and a white chin beard.
Because of their upturned nose, the rain falls into their nose, causing them to sneeze. These monkeys tuck their head between their knees during rainy or foggy days. Sadly, experts classify these monkeys as endangered species as they only consist of approximately 300 individuals.
Scientists speculate that their loud sneezes during the rainy season could give them away to hunters.
The Lesula monkey is a fairly-new monkey species that scientists discovered in 2007. You can find these monkeys in rainforests perching on branches in the central Republic of Congo. They travel with other animals in smaller groups and have quite shy behavior.
What’s interesting about these monkeys is their looks. They have human-like eyes, flat faces, and noses which is not common in other monkeys. They have blond furs from their chin to their chest, while the different parts of their bodies come in black fur. Sadly, these monkeys are also on the list of endangered species.
The Howler monkey has the loudest call. Not only are they the loudest monkeys, but biologists also consider them one of the loudest animals. They call out to others to protect their territory and alert them to stay away. When a Howler monkey calls, it sounds like a roar or a loud bark. The male howler monkey is bigger and louder than the female howler monkeys. They have huge throat and shell-shaped vocal chambers that are ideal for sound.
Howler monkeys are a type of the New World monkey. They live in Central and South America and have prehensile tails that help them grip tree branches.
While humans give hugs as a sign of affection, monkeys express affection and strengthen their bond through grooming. Monkeys pick dirt, bugs, and debris off their companion’s fur not just for their personal hygiene but as a sign of affection and love. Grooming also presents other benefits, especially for the Vervet monkey. When vervet monkeys groom each other, it fluffs their furs and increases insulation.
Typically, the female monkeys are attracted to the strongest males. These male monkeys will be the leaders of the troop. This means they are the only ones to breed in the group. Once born, the baby monkeys are taken care of by their mothers.
A baby monkey then becomes an adult at the age of 3-4 years. The number of offspring a female monkey gives birth to varies depending on the monkey species. For example, baboons give birth to a single young and rarely give birth to twins. Pygmy marmosets typically give birth to twins and sometimes triplets.
Mandrills live in the tropical rainforests in central west Africa and are the largest monkey of all other monkeys. They are very colorful and easily recognizable by their faces' red and blue skin.
They also have bright-hued rumps. When mandrills get excited, the colors become even brighter. These monkey species have sharp and extremely long canine teeth, which they use for self-defense. Their cheeks also have pouches for food storage.
The male mandrill is about 3 feet long and weighs up to 77 pounds. The female mandrill is smaller and weighs only 29 pounds on average.
Mandrills live together in troops headed by a dominant male mandrill with more than a dozen females and young.
The Pygmy marmoset is the smallest of other monkeys, with a body length of only about 14cm. Their grey fur has a yellow, green, and black mark on their back and head. The pygmy marmoset also has long and sharp canines for eating. The female pygmy marmoset gives birth to one to three babies and frequently to fraternal twins.
These smallest monkey species live in groups of two to six individuals. They thrive in river edge forests and dwell in lower elevations of the forest. They avoid the forest floors and heights greater than 18cm from ground level.
You can find Titi monkeys in South America, in countries like Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. They are small monkeys and weigh around 1kg.
The male and female titi monkeys have their tails intertwined as they bond with one another. Their tail is about one-third the length of their entire body, including their head. Their tails are not prehensile but play an important role during mating and bonding.
They are also monogamous and can mate for many years, having up to three generations of titi monkeys living in the same family group. They spend most of their time living in trees but come to the ground occasionally.
The spider monkey is a highly social animal. In fact, a spider monkey could die of loneliness if captured and kept alone. These monkeys live together in the wild in groups of 40 to 50. However, they also break into smaller groups, consisting of a single male with his mates and offsprings, several females and their young or a female and her young. It could also be a group of male spider monkeys.
The smaller groups bark to reassemble into larger groups again when faced with danger. Their females give birth to a single young every two to five years. They live in tropical rainforests located in South and Central America.
The tailless Barbary Macaque is the only wild monkey that lives in Europe. Most of their kind live on mountains in Algeria and Morocco. Aside from humans, these monkeys are the only primate that lives north of the Sahara in Africa. They live in large groups with a dominant female as their leader.
You will notice that these monkeys are tailless. These monkeys also chatter their teeth, not a sign of aggression but friendliness. You will also find them grooming each other to strengthen their bonds, reduce stress levels and maintain their health.
Sadly, these animals are vulnerable to becoming endangered species. They are taken out of the wild to be sold as pets. Their natural habitat is also under attack due to logging. These monkeys eat insects and plants primarily and can live as long as 20 years.
Monkeys are excellent seed dispersers and contribute to restoring tropical forests and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Monkeys typically consume fruits. In fact, Old World monkeys have pouches on their cheeks for storing fruits. They disperse seeds in two ways: eating fruits and spitting out the seeds or eating the whole fruit and defecating them.
The larger monkeys consume a wide range of fruits in large quantities and disperse a larger number of seeds. Monkeys disperse more seeds than other animals and have a higher germination rate. The more trees grow, the more wildlife habitat is conserved, creating a balanced ecosystem.
The Dracula Simia, popularly called the “Monkey Orchid” or” Monkey-like Dracula,” is a flower that looks like the face of a monkey. Oddly, these flowers smell like ripe oranges. They thrive in high altitudes and are native to the tropical highland forests in Southeastern Ecuador. These flowers also bloom at any time during any season.
Monkeys are lovable animals and are one of the closest species to humans.
Monkeys are also one of the most successful seed dispersers, and without them, the restoration of trees and food production will be affected. With some species endangered due to habitat loss, steps to protect monkeys, and all species, remain critical to the survival of our world’s rich biodiversity.
Takeshita, R.S.C., Bercovitch, F.B., Kinoshita, K. et al. (2018) Beneficial effect of hot spring bathing on stress levels in Japanese macaques.
Falótico, T., Proffitt, T., Ottoni, E.B. et al. (2019) Three thousand years of wild capuchin stone tool use.
Squirrel Monkey Encyclopaedia Britannica
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.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.