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10 Fun Facts about Monkeys

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27 February, 2023

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Monkeys have always fascinated people, probably because they reflect so much of our intelligence in their behavior. Their faces, as well as their expressions, also tend to mimic ours. 

However, there is so much more to monkeys than just how they resemble us. Here are a few fun facts about our primate cousins. 

Monkeys are different from apes 

While they both are classified as primates, monkeys are grouped separately from apes. Monkeys have retained a tail and have smaller frames and brains than apes. 

Apes, on the other hand, tend to be larger and more intelligent than monkeys, even to the point of recognizing their reflections in the mirror. 

There are two main types of monkeys

The Old World monkeys were discovered and are living in Asia and Africa. These include the baboons, mandrills, colobus, langurs, and the very popular macaques. Meanwhile, the New World monkeys are those from the North, Central, and South Americas. These include marmosets, howlers, spiders, and capuchin monkeys. 

Their most significant distinguishing feature is the presence of the prehensile tail. Only New World monkeys have prehensile tails, which they use for gripping branches as additional support or for holding stuff like an extra hand. 

Courtesy of Nitin Dhumal

Monkeys have been seen on all continents except for Antarctica

With brains capable of planning routes and very nimble limbs, monkeys have adapted to all sorts of environments—from forests to temples and even urbanized residences. This is why you see monkeys almost everywhere. 

For some reason, though, monkeys have never been spotted in Antarctica, and scientists have yet to recognize a formal theory or answer. 

Monkeys use grooming to strengthen relationships

When you see monkeys huddled in pairs or small groups, they usually pick bugs or debris off each other’s pelts. 

These grooming rituals are not just for hygiene; they also express love and affection. Combining and cleaning each other’s coats strengthens bonds between individuals and the group. 

Courtesy of Zali

Japanese Macaques thrive in cold climates

The only primates known to survive and thrive in frigid climates are the Japanese Macaques, known as snow monkeys. These monkeys, unlike their tropical counterparts, feel right at home in the snow-covered forests of Northern Japan. 

They can be seen happily frolicking in frigid climates or enjoying hot communal baths. These snow monkeys even frequent volcanic hot springs, perhaps to get a brief relief from the cold. 

Monkeys eat more than just bananas

When people talk about feeding monkeys, bananas are usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, bananas are not the only thing on most monkeys’ menus. 

Since they are generally omnivores, their diet includes other fruits, nuts, leaves, bark, roots, rodents, eggs, birds, and most invertebrates they can get their hands on. However, most bananas are now commercially produced, so there’s a good chance that wild monkeys have never even tasted a banana. 

Monkey groups are called by different names, but they follow the same group dynamics

Most people often refer to groups of monkeys as troops. Some refer to them as tribes, while others call them cartloads. Whichever name you call them, a group of monkeys is usually led by the largest and most dominant individual. 

This “alpha” is often given the right to mate with all the troop members and the responsibility of protecting the group. Unfortunately, the alpha position can be stolen once the individual is challenged and defeated by another individual. 

Monkeys were the first to go to space

In 1948, a Rhesus monkey named Albert I was launched into space. He was used to testing if a living organism from Earth could survive the conditions in space. Albert was the first Earthling in space. 

He was followed in 1951 by a Russian dog named Laika aboard the Sputnik 2. It wasn’t until 1961 that the first human, a cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin, followed in Albert’s footsteps and ventured into space aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1.

Monkeys sleep on trees

Despite forming large groups, monkeys still have plenty of predators, including leopards, lions, jaguars, tigers, and even apes. Because of this, they prefer sleeping high up on trees, choosing isolated branches, and even taking turns watching out for intruders. 

They even sleep sitting up so they can immediately spring into action when sentinels catch a glimpse of lurking predators. 

Monkeys have a wide range of sizes 

Monkey species vary significantly in size. Among the many species of monkeys, the smallest is the Pygmy marmoset. These tiny monkeys are so small that adult marmosets grow only as tall as 14 cm or 5.5 inches. That’s even smaller than some bananas. 

On the other hand, the title of most giant monkey goes to the mandrill. The intimidating male mandrills can grow as tall as 3 feet and weigh as much as 100 pounds. 

If that’s not daunting enough, their faces are also painted with bright blue and red colors that grow even more vibrant when they get excited or agitated. 

Courtesy of Klub Boks

Frequently Asked Questions

How intelligent are monkeys?

Since traditional IQ tests do not work on monkeys, it’s difficult to quantify their intelligence. 

However, studies on monkeys (Rhesus monkeys specifically) have shown that they can communicate their thoughts through symbols. On the other hand, Capuchins have been observed to use tools and learn several tricks. 

How long do monkeys live?

For monkeys, lifespans differ significantly in species. Here are some examples of monkeys and their general lifespans:

  • Baboons: 35 – 40 years
  • Japanese macaques: 22 – 27 years
  • Gabon Talapoins: 28 years (observed in captivity but unknown in the wild)
  • Spider monkeys: 25 years
  • Capuchins: 15 – 25 years (in the wild), 35 – 40 years (in captivity)
  • Tamarin: 10 – 15 years

Did humans evolve from monkeys?

No. Researchers and evolution scientists agree that the uncanny similarity between monkeys, apes, and humans is that they had the same evolutionary ancestor. 

However, sometime around 8 million years ago, descendants of this common ancestor diverged into branches, one of which eventually gave rise to humans. In contrast, the other branches gave rise to apes and monkeys. 

Are monkeys considered endangered?

Not all of them. Here are some monkey species considered to be endangered:

  • Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway) – possibly fewer than 100
  • Niger Delta red colobus monkey (Piliocolobus epieni) – as few as 1,000
  • Pig-tailed snub-nosed langur (Simias concolor) – approximate population 3,300
  • Gee’s golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) – fewer than 12,000
  • Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) – fewer than 250
  • Crested macaque (Macaca nigra) – around 4,000 to 6,000
  • Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) – fewer than 30
  • Caquetá titi monkey (Plecturocebus caquetensis) – fewer than 250
  • Northern brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba guariba) – fewer than 100

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