Five groups that classify all living things
A group of animals within the animal kingdom
A group of animals within a pylum
A group of animals within a class
A group of animals within an order
The name of the animal in science
The animal group that the species belongs to
What kind of foods the animal eats
How long (L) or tall (H) the animal is
The measurement of how heavy the animal is
The fastest recorded speed of the animal
How long the animal lives for
Whether the animal is solitary or sociable
The likelihood of the animal becoming extinct
The colour of the animal's coat or markings
|Tan, Brown, Grey, Black, White, Yellow|
The protective layer of the animal
The preferred food of this animal
The specific area where the animal lives
|Tropical forests, grasslands and mountainous plains|
|Average Litter Size:|
The average number of babies born at once
The food that the animal gains energy from
|Fruit, Seeds, Insects|
Other animals that hunt and eat the animal
|Birds, Snakes, Wildcats|
Characteristics unique to this animal
|Long, agile tail and loud vocal calls|
Monkeys comprise a wide range of species throughout much of the tropical world. Despite their raw variety, most of them face threats from human development, capture and hunting. Though all monkeys have many similar characteristics and a close relationship to humans, an early evolutionary shift created two major groups today: “old” and “new” world monkeys. Though they don’t walk on two legs, monkeys are closely related to humans--only great apes, such as chimpanzees, are more related.
4 Top Monkey facts
- Monkeys at risk: out of over 250 species, only one type of monkey was listed as being of “least concern” for extinction!
- Born tree: some monkeys can swing through branches as fast as a racehorse!
- Hanging out: Unlike their cousins, the apes, monkeys often have long tails--but only new world monkeys can use them to hang!
- Pocket-sized: the world’s smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset, is less than six inches long and weighs less than a pack of playing cards!
Monkey Scientific name
Monkeys fall under two scientific names: simiiformes catarrhini and simiiformes platyrrhini. Simiiformes, from which the word “simian” is derived, comes from the latin “simia” for ape or monkey. Catarrhini comes from the latin for “hook nosed,” likely a reference to the closer, downward-pointed nostrils of these monkeys. This is in contrast to Platyrrhini, which comes from the Latin word for “broad nosed,” a reference to the more flattened nostrils of this class of monkey. Read more about various monkey species here:
- Proboscis Monkey
- Pygmy Marmoset
- Squirrel Monkey
- Patas Monkey
- Spider Monkey
- Howley Monkey
- Woolly Monkey
- Vervet Monkey
- White Faced Capuchin
- Japanese Macaque
- Golden Lion Tamarin
- Crab-eating Macaque
- Emperor Tamarin
- Cottontop Tamarin
- Geoffroys Tamarin
- Red-handed Tamarin
- Pied Tamarin
Monkey Appearance and behavior
Monkeys are something of a cousin to apes. Great apes--including chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans--have larger brains and no tails. There exist over 250 species of monkeys, including macaques, tamarinds, and marmosets. Monkeys come in a wide range of sizes, colors and behaviors. These range from the pygmy marmoset, which less than six inches tall and weighs about as much as a deck of playing cards, to the colorful-nosed mandrill, which can weigh over 100 pounds and top out at over three feet long.
Overall, monkeys fall into two broad categories of appearance. Old world monkeys, or simiiformes catarrhini, mostly have more forward-facing noses, similar to humans. Virtually all catarrhini have tails, though none of them are prehensile, meaning they cannot use them to grab objects such as tree branches. The baboon is one example of an old world group of monkeys, with long snouts and gray, brown or tan fur that gets long around the chest and head. The tail of the baboon is approximately five inches long.
Simiiformes platyrrhini, meanwhile, have flatter noses with nostrils that face more to the sides. They are also the only types of monkeys that feature prehensile tails, meaning they can use their tails to grab objects and hang from trees. One common example of a platyrrhini is the spider monkey, which has pink face poking out of noticeably long black fur.
Many monkeys avoid traveling on the ground, moving by way of what scientists call “brachiation.” Brachiation means moving around by swinging from one branch to another. Many monkeys, such as the spider monkey, have adapted long arms relative to their body for this purpose. This, in addition to their prehensile tail, allows them to reach far for the next branch. Brachiation isn’t slow, either--some gibbons can move through the branches as fast as 34 miles per hour, the same speed as a race horse.
Monkeys are found throughout the world, mostly in tropical areas. Catarrhini are found in Africa and Asia, while platyrrhini mostly call Central and South America home. Most monkeys live in tropical areas, particularly in forests. Monkeys do, however, vary in the types of environments in which they thrive. Baboons, for example, live in places that are more arid, or dry, in the southern countries of Africa, where it can also get cooler. The Japanese macaque, covered in thick white-ish hair, is one of the northernmost surviving monkeys, living where there can be snow for months in parts of northern Japan. Some of them do so by relaxing in hot mountain springs. Meanwhile, the golden-headed lion tamarin lives in a low area of Brazil, where there’s lots of rain and the average temperature is over 80 degrees fahrenheit. The lion tamarin also spends its life in the trees, specifically between 10 and 30 feet off the ground, while a baboon will usually only go to high places, such as cliffs, to sleep and get away from predators.
Most monkeys are omnivores, which means they eat a combination of meat and plants. Because of their size, the majority of monkeys get their “meat” from insects or grubs. Larger monkeys will also eat larger prey, such as lizards, or steal bird eggs. Fruit, nuts and seeds also form a large part of most monkey’s diet.
The amount of meat or plants eaten by a monkey depends on their environment as well as the time of the year. Monkeys might feast on grubs during those insects’ breeding times or eat lots of fruit while it is ripe, then resort to more dependable food for the rest of the year. The squirrel monkey, for example, gets three-quarters of its nutrition from insects, but will mostly eat plants and fruits, particularly from the Attalea maripa palms, during rainy season.
Monkey Predators and threats
Monkeys across the world face dangers from other animals as well as humans. In Africa particularly, larger predators such as lions will attempt to hunt monkeys. However, the biggest threat to most monkeys comes from humans.
Humans threaten monkeys through hunting and development. Farmers and loggers can damage a species of monkey’s ecosystem, even when humans clear out a small area. The clearing of trees for crops or lumber can disrupt the ways in which the monkey searches for food for example. In addition, some regions allow monkeys to be hunted for food or captured for sale as pets.
Monkey Reproduction, babies, and lifespan
Much like humans, monkeys give live birth to one or two babies at a time and live long lives compared to other mammals. Though smaller monkeys can have life spans more like a household pet--around 15 years, on average, for many tamarinds--larger monkeys can live as long as 35 years in the wild. Monkeys live even longer in captivity, including one bornean gibbon that made it to 60 years old.
Monkeys grow to maturity with a few years, overall. Like humans, it can take about a year for a fertile female to mate and give live birth to a baby monkey. These timelines are typically shorter for smaller, more rodent-sized monkeys. Like humans, monkeys often have a near-monthly cycle where they can get pregnant. Despite this, most monkey species have a mating season that revolves around food availability.
Most monkey species will give birth to a new baby approximately once every year. Monkey mothers will typically nurse and care for a newborn monkey for at least a few months until the baby monkey becomes more independent. During this time, the baby monkey might cling to the mother exclusively, preventing the mother from having another baby.
Many monkey species form family groups with many adult females and an “alpha” male with whom most of the females mate. Non-alpha males born into these groups might separate from the group in adulthood to form their own family group. As the alpha male grows older or dies, another male may take over as the alpha.
The number of monkeys around the world varies dramatically by species. Some are relatively abundant--such as the bornean gibbon, of which there are hundreds of thousands estimated worldwide--while the hainan black crested gibbon is one of the rarest monkeys, with less than 30 alive in the world. Regardless of populations, almost every monkey in the world is on the decline and is classified as “endangered” by conservation groups. The black crested gibbon, specifically, is listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Other IUCN critically-endangered monkeys include the gray-headed lemur, the blond capuchin, the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey, and the sarawak surili.
A few species of monkey are defined as being only “vulnerable,” a category that is better than “endangered” under the IUCN rating. Vulnerable monkeys include the black-crowned dwarf marmoset and the Natuna Island surili.
The gelada, a type of baboon found in Ethiopia, is one of the only monkeys to earn the IUCN “Least Concern” ranking.
Are monkeys dangerous?
Monkeys can be dangerous as pets, transmitting disease and giving nasty bites, but the risk is relatively small. From 1990 to 2013, the Humane Society had documented 275 attacks from “captive primates” in the U.S., none of which caused death. The majority of monkeys in the wild are shy, preferring to hide from humans rather than confront them.
Can you have a monkey as a pet?
Caring for a monkey is complicated, and a number of states in the U.S. and other countries prohibit or limit who can own a monkey. For example, Alabama allows monkeys as pets; New Hampshire bans monkeys as pets; and Idaho allows monkey ownership, provided you have a special permit.
Are chimpanzees monkeys?
Chimpanzees are actually part of a separate classification of primates, called “great apes.” Great apes are a small group of primates that share many features with monkeys, but are larger, smarter and tail-less. Great apes also share a closer genetic connection to humans. The chimpanzees, particularly, are humans’ closest genetic relative, sharing 99 percent of our genetic code!
View all 35 animals that start with M.
View printer friendly version of Monkey article.
Learn how you can use or cite the Monkey article in your website content, school work and other projects.
First Published: 5th December 2008, Last Updated: 4th March 2020
1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]
2. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2011]
3. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2010]
4. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]
5. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2009]
6. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 05 Dec 2008]