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Apes vs. Monkeys

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In the book The Shadow of Man, the chimpanzees being studied are sometimes referred to as monkeys and sometimes as apes. This led me to wonder if there was in fact a difference between monkeys and apes, or if they were just two different ways of saying the same thing. From researching this topic, I found that monkeys and apes belong to the same Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, and Sub Order, but have a number of profound differences that show up in what Family they belong to.



Apes belong to the Sub Order Anthropoidea, which also includes monkeys and humans. However, they have their own Family, Hominoidea, which includes such apes as Orangutan, Gorilla, Gibbons, Chimpanzee, Bonobo and Human. Some general characteristics that apes share are, larger bodies and brains than monkeys, no tails, prolonged period of infancy, single births, 32 teeth, they posses a mobile shoulder joint allowing them to hang from their arms, and a wider torso and shorter, stiffer lower back region. Another profound difference between apes and monkeys that is easily noticed in their appearance is that apes rely more heavily on vision than smell, and thusly have shorter noses than most monkeys. Because of their larger brains, apes have the ability to use tools, use problem solving skills, distinguish colors, and effectively communicate. Apes are further divided down into two groups greater apes and lesser apes. Greater apes are larger than lesser apes and have opposable thumbs, the ability to walk on two feet, and shorter legs than arms with opposable big toes (with the exception of humans). Lesser apes have much less members and consist solely of Gibbons. Gibbons, although similar in appearance to monkeys, are in fact apes. Gibbons have no tails, and similar skulls and dental patterns as greater apes. All apes are highly endangered (except humans) and inhabit only a very small part of Africa and Asia.


Unlike apes, monkeys have a very large variety of species and are relatively populous compared with apes. However, like apes, monkeys are divided into two groups, Old World Monkeys and New World Monkeys. The two groups differ greatly in physical appearance. Old world monkeys belong to the family Cercopithecinae, and have narrow and downward pointing nostrils, longer hind legs than forearms, flattened nails on fingers and toes, prominent buttock pads that they can sit on, nonprehensile tails (not adapted for grasping or holding), and are generally larger than the New World monkeys. In contrast, New World Monkeys, making up the family platyrrhines, have wide nostrils which are circular and spaced apart, small to medium sized, long tails which are sometimes prehensile, and no buttock pads or cheek pouches.


I also found out that monkeys and apes aren’t the only ones that make up the order primate, there is another group called prosimians that are considered primates. Prosimians are the most primitive forms of primates, sometimes referred to as pre-monkeys, members include ring tailed lemurs as well as tarsiers. Prosimians have the smallest brains of the primates, but their senses are extremely sensitive. They have prolonged snouts, independently functioning ears, and huge eyes that allow them to see clearly in the dark, which is useful because they are generally nocturnal.


From researching this topic, I found that apes and monkeys are two completely different things and even so are not the primate order. I also found that chimpanzees are greater apes just like humans, which is probably why there are so many similarities in behavior and social life between the two, as pointed out in The Shadow of Man.





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