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" Mandrills have a really unique appearance that sets them apart from other primates. "

Although almost as heavy as an ape, the mandrill is actually a type of monkey that divides its time between the ground and the trees. Its bright facial color and shiny coat are an instant hit to gazed tourists and zoogoers alike. However, the spread of human civilization has threatened the species' survival in its native African habitat.

3 Incredible Mandrill Facts

  • The mandrill is an animal that displays an indescribably vivid and striking color around its body. This characteristic once prompted Charles Darwin to write: "In the whole class of mammals there is no other member whose coloration is so remarkable as that of the adult male mandrill."
  • Mandrills store food in oversized cheek pouches .
  • The character Rafiki in The Lion King , although described as a baboon, appears to have the colorful face of a mandrill.
Mandrill One


scientific name

The scientific name of the mandrill is Mandrillus sphinx . It gets its name from the figure with the human head and animal body in ancient Greek mythology, perhaps reflecting its peculiar appearance.

Mandrills belong to the family Cercopithecidae , which includes all Old World monkeys. As the name suggests, Old World monkeys live only in Africa and Asia. This distinguishes them from the New World monkeys that live in the Americas. The physical differences between them are subtle, but Old World monkeys do not have tails suitable for grasping and have more prominent noses.

Evolution and Origin

Due to convergent evolution, when a species inhabits similar ecological regions and adapts in similar ways to the same selection pressures, mandrills and mandrills were originally classified as forest baboons because they share many baboon-like traits. Although the exact history of the mandrill is unknown due to a lack of fossil finds, the first monkeys appeared during the Eocene epoch about 34 million years ago, which subsequently led to the evolution of Old World monkeys during the Miocene epoch, 24 million years ago.


The mandrill is just one of two extant species of the mandrill genus Sphinx. Another creature is Mandrillus leucophaeus , commonly known as a drill. The two species share similar social structures, habitats, and appearance, but bits are also far less colorful than their lively siblings.


Mandrill's Facial View
Mandrills are best known for the bright red markings on certain parts of their body.

© Just chaos / Creative Commons

The mandrill is distinctive in appearance, an animal with a very long muzzle, prominent eyebrows and a short, almost non-existent tail. It is an elegant dark green and gray coat with a tuft of white hairs on the belly and a long yellow beard. Combined with its long, muscular limbs, compact body, and large head, the mandrill appears somewhat unusual to the human eye, as if it were a patchwork of different parts. But this species is actually quite skilled and agile, with a great range of movements and postures. Although the mandrill usually walks on all fours, it can also sit or lie down with its rather thick rear end. It also has opposable thumbs and big toes for grasping objects and climbing trees. The animal spends part of its life on the ground, jumping from branch to branch.

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The most recognizable aspect of the mandrill's appearance is the distinctive markings on certain parts of the body, including the bright red nose and mouth, pale blue cheeks and colorful rump. These markers actually serve important social functions. Certain colors on the body become more intense when irritated or agitated. The display of the rump may also indicate submissiveness or the availability of a female to mate.

In terms of size, the mandrill was probably the largest of the Old World monkeys. Males of this species can weigh up to around 70 pounds, possibly over 100 pounds, and stand over 30 inches tall. A mandrill is about the size of a large dog. However, the female is significantly smaller than the male; it only weighs about 30 pounds. This extreme difference in body size between the sexes of mandrills is one of the largest among primates. Another important sex difference is the males' tendency to sport more vibrant colors. This has important implications for the species' mating behaviour, as brighter colors can mean dominance.


Mandrill showing big canine teeth

© Ryan E. Poplin/Creative Commons

The giant canines are usually invisible, but when the mandrill opens its mouth, they become very visible.


monkey tooth-mandrill tooth
Mandrills baring their teeth is one of their communication strategies.

© Maciej Kopaniecki/

Coloring is just one aspect of the mandrill's many communication strategies. Visual cues, body posture, scent markings, and vocalizations are used to convey a variety of messages about mating, play, warning, and other behaviors. For example, baring your teeth is one of the most common signs. This is actually a friendly and pleasant gesture, not an aggressive one. If the mandrill is really agitated, it visibly slaps the ground with its hands and keeps its eyes on its target. Grooming is another common behavior that helps strengthen bonds between group members. They also use a variety of sounds, such as grunts and howls, to convey emotions, especially when they lose visual contact with each other. The thorax has a scent gland that enables them to signal their presence by rubbing various chemicals on objects.

Since social relationships are an important aspect of their behavior, mandrills seek safety in flocks. A single group, called a troop or tribe, can consist of about 50 members, although some groups may come together for short periods of time. The largest group ever recorded was about 1,200 people. Tribes have a unique social hierarchy in which each member has a place. At the top of the hierarchy is a single dominant male who has exclusive reproductive rights and is responsible for protecting the group from outside threats. The health and stability of the entire tribe often depend on the actions of the leader.

Male and female mandrills display distinctly different relationships within and between groups. Males tend to leave the group when they reach full maturity, sometimes forming all-male singleton groups. Females stay in the same group at birth, which often allows them to form strong lifelong bonds with each other.

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The intelligence of mandrills is not as well explored by scientists as that of gorillas and chimpanzees, but observations in captivity and in the wild have documented a variety of different tool uses for mandrills, both foraging and grooming. Studies have also shown that they are able to exhibit good long-term memory, face recognition and problem-solving skills.


Mandrills live mainly in the forests of West Africa.

© Robert Young/Creative Commons

Mandrills live primarily in the forests of West Africa, often next to rivers, wetlands or savannahs. The animal's main range spans countries such as Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Although primarily adapted to a terrestrial lifestyle, this species actually congregate in trees at night for safety and comfort. They tend to switch between different trees in their range each night.


The most colorful animal: the mandrill
Mandrills are threatened by habitat destruction and predation.

© Nicola 007/

Mandrills are currently vulnerable to extinction, according to the IUCN Red List, which classifies the conservation status of many species. Exact population numbers are unknown, but habitat destruction by agriculture, industry, and human settlements appears to be the main reason for their slow decline. Mandrill bushmeat, or the hunting of wild animals for food, remains an ongoing practice in 21st century Africa. To prevent their extinction, conservation efforts have focused on establishing anti-poaching and surveillance measures to prevent overhunting. Environmentalists also need to work with local governments to stem the loss of natural habitats. The mandrill does not yet need emergency measures to survive, but the decline is worrying.


Mandrills are experts at preying on plants and small animals such as fungi, roots, seeds, fruits, insects, worms, amphibians, lizards, snakes, snails, eggs and small mammals. Their diet is very rich and may include as many as a hundred different species. Male and female mandrills pursue different hunting strategies. Adult males tend to forage on the ground, while females and children tend to forage in trees. Mandrills play an important ecological role by helping to disperse seeds into their native forest environment.

Predators and Threats

Due to their large size, mandrills have few natural predators in the wild, except leopards and, of course, humans, who are traditionally hunted for food. Mandrills can also die from accidental contact with venomous snakes. The size of the group alone provides adequate protection against danger, but if an individual is cornered, the large canines also provide adequate defense. More recently, habitat loss has emerged as another significant danger to their continued existence.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

mother and baby mandrill
Females can only give birth to one child at a time, although twins have been observed in captivity.

©Edwin Butter/

Mandrills form a harem society, in which a single male has exclusive mating rights with a group of females. Interestingly, females actually choose which males they mate with. One theory is that females choose the brightest-colored males because the intensity of the color directly reflects a male's testosterone levels, which indicate health and physical vitality. This is an example of sexual selection, where one sex develops exaggerated traits to convey information and help the opposite sex choose a suitable mate. Another possibility is that males become brighter only after being selected by females. Either way, male aggression does happen, and it can sometimes be fatal, but it's not as obvious as you might think.

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The timing of the breeding season varies depending on food availability, but usually occurs every two years between July and October. From January to around March, the female will carry the young for about six months before finally giving birth. Only one mandrill is produced at a time, and twins have only been observed in captivity. For the first two months of life, the young mandrill has black fur and pink skin, and over the next few months and years it will grow back its normal fur. Mothers provide the vast majority of protection, feeding and grooming, while fathers contribute little directly, but may help indirectly through the protection of the group.

After gaining independence, young mandrills must find food on their own and work their way up the pack hierarchy. Female mandrills will reach sexual maturity after at least four years. Males, on the other hand, take a full nine years to reach sexual maturity. Mandrills typically live more than 20 years in the wild. The longest recorded lifespan is 46 years in captivity.

in the zoo

Mandrills are regular visitors to the San Diego Zoo. The first pair of mandrills, Peter and Suzy, arrived in 1923 but never bred with each other. The zoo later established a breeding program in 1938 and has kept the mandrill alive since then, even welcoming a new baby in 2016. Mandrills are also common at the Denver Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

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The mandrill is actually a type of monkey, not an ape. The terms are somewhat confusing. Monkeys and great apes are both primates, but they have very different evolutionary lineages, and there are some differences in physiology and appearance. Even more confusing, Old World monkeys are actually more closely related to great apes like chimpanzees and gorillas than New World monkeys. The important thing to remember is that these three groups are very different from each other.

The mandrill is an omnivorous species that feeds exclusively on plants and small animals.

Mandrills occupy tropical rainforests, forested riverbeds, and similar types of forests. These areas provide abundant food and water.

Mandrills and baboons were once included in the same genus. However, mandrills were eventually moved to the genus Mandrillus, while baboons were kept in the genus Papio. Like the mandrill, the baboon is one of the largest primates in the world. It has a similar diet and social arrangement. However, there are several important differences, including that baboons do not have colorful facial features.

Mandrills can be very aggressive when defending their territory. However, if the species is left at peace, it does not want to attack humans.

Mandrills belong to the animal kingdom.

Mandrills belong to the class Mammalia.

Mandrills belong to the phylum Chordate.

Mandrills belong to the family Cercopithecidae.

Mandrills belong to the primate order.

Mandrills are covered with fur.

Mandrills belong to the genus Mandrill.

Predators of mandrills include leopards, eagles and snakes.

Mandrills have an average of one child.

Mandrill's scientific name is Mandrillus Sphinx.

Mandrills can live up to 20 to 28 years.

Mandrills can travel at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.