10 Incredible Monkey Facts

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Updated: October 10, 2022
© iStock.com/miroslav_1
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Monkeys are popular animals in both imaginative stories as well as in real life because of their fun and energetic personalities. From Egyptian wall paintings to the cursed capuchin in Pirates of the Caribbean, monkeys have continually fascinated humans all over the world. Let’s take a closer look at why these curious creatures continue to captivate us with 10 incredible monkey facts!

1.      Monkeys Are Not Apes

Golden Lion Tamarin on tree branch.
The Golden Lion Tamarin is an endangered species of New World Monkey that lives in Brazil.

©iStock.com/jeancliclac

Here’s an important monkey fact we should clarify: monkeys are not apes, and apes are not monkeys. One of the quickest and easiest ways to tell a monkey from an ape is by looking for the animal’s tail. While they are both primates, apes do not have tails, but monkeys do (with a few rare exceptions).

Monkey species are often grouped into Old World Monkeys and New World Monkeys. New World monkeys live in South and Central America and have prehensile tails. This means that they can use their tails like an extra limb to grasp onto branches and objects. Most New World Monkeys also have flatter noses and live in trees, so their prehensile tails are quite useful.

Old World Monkeys, on the other hand, live in Asia and Africa. While they also have tails, their tails are not prehensile. Most of these monkeys do not hang from branches or in trees. They are usually larger than New World monkeys and have downward-pointing noses, and pads on their bottoms for sitting.

2.      Monkeys Live All Over the World, and Some Even Have Personal Spas

Japanese Macaques soaking in the Jigokudani Hot Spring.
Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata) often travel to the Jigokudani Hot Spring for a nice warm soak.

©Yosemite / Creative Commons

Today monkeys can be found just about anywhere on earth, except for Antarctica and Australia. Many monkeys live in the forest trees of warm, tropical regions, while other species live in much harsher climates. Japanese Macaques, for example, live in a region that is often covered in snow. They are commonly called “Snow Monkeys” and have very thick fur to combat the freezing temperatures. Some snow monkeys even take much needed breaks from the cold by soaking in the spa-like volcanic hot springs in the mountains of Japan.

3.      There Are Over 300 Different Species of Monkeys

Full body shot of the mandrill
The bright colors of mandrills are produced by structural coloration in facial collagen fibers.

©((brian)) / Creative Commons

Although all monkey species share certain characteristics, there are over 300 different types of monkeys on earth, so no two monkey species are alike! The largest monkey in the world, for example, is the Mandrill. A male mandrill monkey can grow 3.3 feet long and weigh over 70 pounds. Mandrill monkeys also have some of the biggest monkey teeth out there, with fangs that can rival even a full-grown lion!

The smallest monkey in the world, on the other hand, is the Pygmy Marmoset, which is so small it could fit in the palm of your hand! Pygmy marmosets are 5 inches long, have 7-inch-long tails, and weigh around 4 ounces. Don’t let their small size fool you though. Even with such a small body, a pygmy marmoset can jump nearly 15 feet into the air!

4.      Monkeys Have Strong Bonds and Complex Social Hierarchies

Wolf's Mona Monkeys grooming each other while sitting on a branch.
Wolf’s Mona Monkeys grooming each other while resting on a branch. These colorful Old World Monkeys live in Central Africa.

©iStock.com/DejaVu Designs

Monkeys are extremely social animals and live in groups called troops or tribes. These groups involve complex social hierarchies with many different ways of reinforcing their relationships. For example, one of the main ways that monkeys bond within their social groups is by participating in mutual grooming or allogrooming. Allogrooming is where monkeys groom one another, sometimes even forming a grooming chain of several monkeys as they help to remove dirt and bugs from each other’s fur. Monkeys utilize these grooming connections to reinforce relationships and social connections, to relax and relieve stress, and sometimes as a way to help soothe conflicts between one another.

5.      Monkeys Have Excellent Communication Skills

Loudest Animals: Howler Monkey
Howler Monkeys are the loudest animal in the New World and their sound can travel for up to three miles of thick forest.

©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

You’ve probably noticed that monkeys make all kinds of different sounds. For example, gelada baboons use at least 20-30 different vocal sounds. In addition, they use various facial expressions, postures, gestures, and body language to communicate with one another—things like chants, screams, grunts, alarm calls, and lip-smacking.  

And who could forget the infamous howler monkey? This vocal monkey can make one of the loudest sounds of any land animal on earth. Here’s an extremely incredible monkey fact: howler monkey calls can sometimes be heard from 3 miles away!

6.      Monkeys Are Cute and Quirky

Emperor tamarin
The Emperor Tamarin is a New World Monkey that is the size of a squirrel.

©iStock.com/Jharpy

Each monkey has its own unique personality that often reveals rather cute and quirky behaviors. In the 1950’s, for example, a group of researchers wanted to observe macaque monkeys on an island in Japan, so they left sweet potatoes out for them. Initially the monkeys ate the sweet potatoes without any issue. However, one female macaque known as “Imo”, was not impressed with how dirty the sweet potatoes were and decided to wash and scrub hers clean before she ate it. Many of the island’s monkeys followed her lead and even today most macaques on the island still wash their potatoes before eating them.

Another group of Japanese macaques ride on the backs of silka deer! It seems to be a symbiotic relationship, since the monkeys get a free ride, while the deer often eat the seeds and foods that the monkeys drop along the way. The two species have developed a special understanding, and possibly even a unique interspecies friendship, as the monkeys have been observed grooming the deer as well.

7.      Monkeys Are Athletic and Acrobatic

Spider monkey hanging from a tree branch.
Spider monkeys do not have a thumb. Their four fingers are curved and look like a hook, which is a special adaptation to the life in the forest. With their hook-like hands, long limbs, and strong prehensile tails, spider monkeys can climb and hang from trees.

©Patrick Mueller / Creative Commons

With their prehensile tails and flexible bodies, many species of monkey are extremely acrobatic. Spider monkeys, for example, have very long limbs that help them to swing from tree to tree with ease. Some spider monkeys can jump further than 30 feet as they leap across from one branch to the next! Common patas monkeys, on the other hand, travel on the ground rather than through the trees, but they can run up to 34 miles per hour!

The athleticism of monkeys also makes them incredible escape artists. Monkeys at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute at Japan, for example, somehow managed to break out of their allegedly “escape-proof” enclosure. The trees within the enclosure were cut to only 6 feet tall—much too short to assist a monkey trying to get past a 17-foot-tall electric fence. But the monkeys, of course, did not give up. Eventually they discovered that they could use the small branches of these shortened trees as a makeshift slingshot. The monkeys catapulted themselves straight over the massive fence!

8.      Monkeys Are Smart

Saddle-back tamarin monkey eating.
Saddle-Back Tamarin Monkeys have long and slender hands that help them to find food in hidden crevices and knotholes.

©iStock.com/Micomyiza

Many monkeys also use complex tools to complete tasks and can comprehend higher levels of learning and understanding. Capuchin monkeys, for example, place nuts on a flat or pitted stone and then hit them with another rock, cracking the nuts open. They also use various plants and insects for medical purposes. For example, some capuchin monkeys have spread crushed up millipedes on their fur to keep other bugs away, making their very own natural insect repellent!

Monkeys can also understand numbers and count, and in some cases even comprehend addition and multiplication. With training, many monkeys have learned sign language and can communicate with humans.

9.      There is a Monkey Temple in Nepal

Rhesus Macaque monkey sitting on temple stupa.
Rhesus Macaques are often seen on the ancient stupas of the Swayambhunath temple high above Kathmandu.

©iStock.com/3yephotography

In Kathmandu, Nepal, there is a religious building complex revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. There are many shrines, temples, domed stupas—and lots of monkeys. The monkeys are considered holy, as legend explains that they came from the bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjushree.

The Swayambhunath Temple has been nicknamed the “Monkey Temple” due to the hundreds of monkeys that live in the northwestern portion of this ancient temple. Visitors often encounter mobs of monkeys basking on stony ledges and swimming in pools and fountains.

10. Many Monkeys Are in Danger

White-Eyelid Mangabey
White-eyelid mangabeys have a white ring around their eyes. Mangabeys are extremely endangered and some of the rarest monkeys on earth.

©ShutterSparrow/Shutterstock.com

At least half of the many species of monkey in the world today are considered threatened or endangered species. The Hainan gibbons, for example, is critically endangered, with only around 30 monkeys left in the world. Hundreds of years ago, these small monkeys lived all across China, but years of habitat loss and poaching has completely decimated their populations. Another critically endangered species, the Roloway monkey, is almost entirely extinct in its range, with less than 2,000 monkeys left.

Most of these monkey species are endangered because of hunting and poaching, habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade (which in many cases is illegal). Fortunately, there are many people and organizations committed to conservation and recovery for endangered monkey species, so hopefully these animals can make a comeback in the future.

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The Featured Image

three squirrel monkeys sitting on a tree branch
Monkeys travel a lot for their daily diet.
© iStock.com/miroslav_1

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About the Author

I have been a professional writer for 8 years with a particular focus on nature, wildlife, anthrozoology, and human-animal relationships. My areas of interest include human-animal studies, ecocriticism, vulnerable species, pets, and animal behavior. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in Comparative Studies, focusing on the relationship between humanity and the natural world. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, watching movies, reading, creating art, and caring for my pets. Nothing brings me greater joy than a day spent in the company of animals.

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Sources
  1. Springer Link, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-018-0655-x
  2. Springer Link, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02692251
  3. Springer Link, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03194240
  4. The Telegraph, Available here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/7876267/Monkeys-use-trees-to-catapault-themselves-out-of-Japanese-laboratory.html