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Monkeys are primates found in a wide variety of species throughout most of the tropical world. Despite their wide variety, most of them are threatened by human exploitation, capture and hunting. Although all monkeys share many similar traits and are closely related to humans, early evolutionary shifts created the two main groups of today: "old" world monkeys and "new" world monkeys.
Although they don't walk on two legs, monkeys are closely related to humans — only great apes, such as chimpanzees, are more closely related. Monkeys are one of the most popular animals in the world.
6 Great Monkey Facts
- Endangered monkeys: Out of more than 250 species, only one monkey is listed as a "least concern" extinct species!
- Natural Trees: Some monkeys can race through tree branches as fast as a racehorse!
- Loitering: Unlike their ape cousins, monkeys often have long tails – but only New World monkeys use them for lounging!
- Pocket size: The world's smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset, measures less than six inches long and weighs less than a deck of cards!
- Giant: The largest monkeys in the world can reach huge sizes. For example, male mandrills have reached a size of 119 pounds!
- While the idea of keeping pet monkeys may seem like a good idea, owning them is illegal in most states.
evolution and origin
Most studies show that monkeys evolved from proto-apes during the Oligocene. Furthermore, great apes subsequently evolved from catalinians in Africa during the Miocene epoch. Having said that, scientists have decided to divide apes into small apes and great apes.
The research also suggests that the ancestors of monkeys originated in Africa, with the first known groups of monkeys thought to have arrived in South America 40 million years ago. This happened when land masses moved closer together and made migration easier than it is today. As of today, the oldest known monkey skeleton is that of Canaanimico amazonensis . The skeleton dates back to 26.5 million years ago.
The monkey has two scientific names: simiiformes catarrhini and simiiformes platyrrhini . The word "simian" is derived from Simiiformes, from the Latin "simia", meaning ape or monkey. Catarrhini comes from Latin for "hooked nose," which likely refers to the closer, downward-facing nostrils of these monkeys. This is in stark contrast to Platyrrhini, which comes from Latin for "broad-nosed," referring to the flatter nostrils of these monkeys.
types of monkeys
Can run more than four miles a day!
They feed on plants and fruit and act as seed dispersers, helping their environment.
Unique colored nose and buttocks!
Belongs to the only primate in the world with a complete tail!
These small, clever monkeys often give birth to fraternal twins.
appearance and behavior
Monkeys are close relatives of apes. Great apes — including chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans — have larger brains but no tails. There are more than 250 species of monkeys, including macaques, tamarinds and marmosets. Monkeys vary in size, color and behavior. These species include the pygmy marmoset, which stands less than six inches tall and weighs about the same as a deck of cards, and the colorful nosed mandrill, which weighs more than 100 pounds and is more than 3 feet long.
In general, the appearance of monkeys falls into two broad categories. Old World monkeys, or simiiformes catarrhini , mostly have more forward-facing snouts, similar to humans. Almost all catthani have tails, but none of them have tails, which means they can't use them to grab objects like twigs. Baboons, an example of an Old World monkey group, have elongated snouts and gray, brown or tan fur that elongates around the chest and head. A baboon's tail is about five inches long.
The New World monkey, simiiformes platyrrhini , has a flattened nose with nostrils more toward the sides. They are also the only species of monkey with a tail grip, which means they can use their tail to grab objects and hang from trees. A common example of a broad-nosed monkey is the spider monkey, which has a pink face that pokes out from conspicuously long black fur.
Many monkeys avoid walking on the ground and instead move by what scientists call "brachiation." Brachiation means moving by swinging from one branch to another. To this end, many monkeys, such as spider monkeys, adapt their long arms to their bodies.
This, along with their graspable tails, allows them to reach great distances in search of the next branch. Armspan isn't slow either — some gibbons can zip through tree branches at 34 miles per hour, the same speed as a racehorse.
Check out the most beautiful monkey in the world and the ugliest monkey in the world. Also, see if monkeys can actually swim.
Monkeys are found all over the world, mainly in the tropics. Catanis are distributed in Africa and Asia, while platysmas mainly live in Central and South America. Most monkeys live in tropical areas, especially forests. However, monkeys do vary in the types of environments in which they thrive. For example, baboons live in arid or drier parts of southern African countries, which may also get cooler.
Covered with bushy white fur, the Japanese macaque is one of the northernmost monkeys in existence, living in parts of northern Japan where snow can fall for months. Some of them do this by relaxing in hot mountain springs.
Meanwhile, the golden-headed lion tamarin lives in low-lying areas of Brazil, where rainfall is abundant and temperatures average over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lion tamarins also spend their lives in trees, especially 10 to 30 feet off the ground, while baboons usually only sleep on high places like cliffs to hide from predators.
Most monkeys are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants. Because of their size, most monkeys get their "meat" from insects or grubs. Larger monkeys also eat larger prey, such as lizards, or steal bird eggs. Fruits, nuts and seeds are also a large part of most monkeys' diets. It's a common belief that monkeys eat bananas, but you can find out if monkeys actually eat bananas in this article.
The amount of meat or plants the monkeys eat depends on their environment and the time of year. Monkeys may feed on grubs during these insect breeding seasons, or eat a lot of fruit when ripe, and then turn to more reliable food for the rest of the year. For example, squirrel monkeys get three-quarters of their nutrition from insects, but eat mostly plants and fruits during the rainy season, especially those from the Attalea maripa palm.
For a full list of foods monkeys eat, check out our What Monkeys Eat page.
Predators and Threats
Monkeys around the world face danger from other animals and humans. Especially in Africa, larger predators such as lions will try to hunt monkeys. However, the greatest threat to most monkeys comes from humans.
Humans threaten monkeys through hunting and exploitation. Farmers and loggers can destroy the monkey species' ecosystem even if humans clear a small area. For example, cutting down trees for crops or timber can disrupt how monkeys find food. Additionally, some areas allow monkeys to be hunted for food or captured to be sold as pets.
Reproduction, Babies and Longevity
Much like humans, monkeys can live birth one or two babies at a time and live longer than other mammals. While the lifespan of the smaller monkeys is more like that of a household pet — the average lifespan for many tamarinds is about 15 years — the larger monkeys can live as long as 35 years in the wild. Captive monkeys lived even longer, including a Bornean gibbon that lived to be 60 years old.
In general, monkeys reach maturity within a few years. Like humans, it can take about a year for a fertile female monkey to mate and give birth to a baby monkey. For smaller, more rodent-like monkeys, these timelines were generally shorter. Like humans, monkeys typically have a cycle of nearly a month before they can conceive. Still, most monkeys have a mating season that revolves around food availability.
Most monkeys give birth to a new baby approximately every year. Monkey mothers usually care for and care for newborn monkeys for at least a few months until the babies become more independent. During this time, the baby monkeys may cling exclusively to the mother, preventing the mother from having another child.
Many monkey species form family groups with many adult females and "alpha" males who mate with most females. Non-alpha males born into these groups may separate from the group as adults and form their own family groups. As the alpha male ages or dies, another male may take over as the alpha.
Monkey populations around the world vary by species. Some are relatively numerous—the Bornean gibbon, for example, is estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands worldwide—and the Hainan black-crested gibbon is one of the rarest monkeys, with fewer than 30 left worldwide. Regardless of population size, nearly every monkey in the world is in decline and is listed as "endangered" by conservation groups.
Specifically, the black crested gibbon is listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Other IUCN critically endangered monkeys include gray-headed lemurs, blond capuchins, Burmese golden monkeys and Sarawak suri monkeys.
Some monkeys are defined as only "vulnerable," a category better than "endangered" under the IUCN rating. Vulnerable monkeys include the black-crested pygmy marmoset and the Natuna Island suri monkey.
Geladas, a species of baboon found in Ethiopia, are one of only monkeys to receive a "least threatened" ranking from the IUCN.
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Monkey FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are monkeys dangerous?
Monkeys can be dangerous as pets, spreading disease and biting people, but the risks are relatively small. From 1990 to 2013, the Humane Society documented 275 "captive primate" attacks in the United States, none of which resulted in deaths. Most monkeys in the wild are shy and prefer to avoid humans rather than confront them.
Can monkeys be kept as pets?
Caring for monkeys is complicated, and many states in the United States and other countries have banned or restricted who can keep monkeys. For example, Alabama allows monkeys as pets; New Hampshire bans monkeys as pets; and Idaho allows monkeys if you have special permission.
Are chimpanzees monkeys?
Chimpanzees are actually part of a separate classification of primates called "apes." Apes are a small group of primates that share many characteristics with monkeys, but are larger, more intelligent and lack tails. Apes are also more closely related genetically to humans. Chimpanzees in particular are our closest genetic relatives, sharing 99% of our genetic code!
Are monkeys herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Monkeys are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.
Which kingdom does the monkey belong to?
Monkeys belong to the animal kingdom.
What door do monkeys belong to?
Monkeys belong to the phylum Chordate.
Which category does the monkey belong to?
Monkeys belong to the class Mammalia.
What family do monkeys belong to?
Monkeys belong to the monkey family.
What order do monkeys belong to?
Monkeys belong to the category of primates.
What type of mulch do monkeys have?
Monkeys are covered in fur.
What type of habitat do monkeys live in?
Monkeys live in tropical forests, grasslands and mountain plains.
What do monkeys eat?
Monkeys eat fruit, seeds and insects.
Who are the natural enemies of monkeys?
Predators of monkeys include birds, snakes and feral cats.
What is the average litter size of a monkey?
The average litter size of monkeys was 1.
What are some interesting facts about monkeys?
There are approximately 260 known monkey species!
What is the scientific name of the monkey?
The scientific name of the monkey is Macaca Fascicularis.
What is the lifespan of a monkey?
Monkeys can live 10 to 30 years.
How fast is the monkey?
Monkeys can travel at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
What is the Difference Between Chimps and Monkeys?
The key differences between monkeys and chimpanzees include their family type, appearance, diet, intelligence, and communication style.
What is the main difference between gorillas and monkeys?
The key differences between gorillas and monkeys are the classification of primates, diet, and body size.
What is the Difference Between Ape and Monkey?
The main difference between ape and monkey is intelligence and tail. Other differences include position, articulation, size, articulation, and movement.
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- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals