Curious baby monkeys in Lopburi, Thailand. (Photo: jeep2499 /Shutterstock)
Considering they’re one of our closest cousins, you’d think we humans would know a thing or two about monkeys. However, there’s a surprising number of misconceptions and myths that continue to circulate about these clever primates.
As we usher in the Chinese New Year and celebrate the Year of the Monkey, let’s all take a moment to brush up on these 11 eye-opening facts about these fascinating creatures.
1. Apes and lemurs are not monkeys
A chimpanzee, a Javan lutung and a ring-tailed lemur. (Photo: Kjersti Joergensen/Marek Velechovsky/Eric Gevaert/Shutterstock)
The term “monkey” is sometimes used as a catch-all for every animal in the primate family, but the truth is that monkeys live on completely different branches of the evolutionary tree from both apes (i.e. chimpanzees, gorillas and humans) and prosimians (i.e. lemurs, tarsiers and lorises). If you’re not sure if you’re looking at a monkey or an ape, keep an eye out for these telltale traits.
2. Human industry threatens many of the world’s monkeys
Gray-shanked douc langurs are one of the world’s most critically endangered primates. (Photo: grass-lifeisgood/Shutterstock)
Some of the most fascinating monkey species are experiencing rapid declines in population due to a variety of factors based on their unique location. These factors include everything from habitat loss and fragmentation, live capture for the global pet trade, and hunting for bushmeat or traditional medicines.
Just a few of the monkeys that are on theIUCN’s list of the 25 most endangered primatesyear after year include the grey-shanked douc langur (pictured above), the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, the Delacour’s langur and the golden-headed langur.
3. There’s only one free-living species of wild monkey in Europe
A barbary macaque rests on a ledge in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. (Photo: Anilah/Shutterstock)
Nearly all of the Earth’s wild monkeys are confined to just four parts of the world: New World species are found in South and Central America, while Old World species are found in Asia and Africa. There is one exception, though — the thriving population of wild Barbary macaques that roam free in the Iberian island of Gibraltar. DNA analysis shows that these macaques, which have been in Gibraltar for many centuries, originated from Northern Africa.
Although these Barbary macaques are the only wild monkeys currently living in Europe, it’s important to note that it wasn’t always that way. Prior to the Ice Age, macaques could be found as far north as Germany and the British Isles.
4. Pygmy marmosets are the world’s smallest monkeys
Pygmy marmosets are not just tiny — they’re downright adorable! (Photo: bluedogroom/Shutterstock)
Native to the Amazon Basin of South America, this tiny New World monkey weighs in at about 3.5 ounces upon reaching adulthood. Although the pygmy marmoset is the tiniest monkey, the award for the smallest primate goes to the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur.
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