Monkeys and Apes

Key Differences Between Monkeys and Apes

monkeys and apes

It’s a common belief that there is no difference between a monkey and an ape other than a few physical variations. In fact, these two terms have been used interchangeably for much of the history. While both monkeys and apes come under the same classification (primate) in reality, these are two different kinds of animals with distinct characteristics and traits. Once you begin learning about them in detail, you'll come to know they are, in reality, quite different from each other. But, before looking at differences, it's important to know that both monkeys and apes are primates. So, who are the primates and what are the key differences between a monkey and an ape?

Read on for details:

Who are the Primates?

Primates are mammals with characteristics that include forward-facing eyes, highly flexible limbs, a large brain and a shortened snout. They also have firm grasping hands that enable them to move easily from branch to branch. Primates range in size from the pygmy mouse lemur to the gorilla, weighing over 400 pounds. About 90% of primates live in tropical regions and are dependent on forests for their survival.

Primates usually live in large social groups, and their high intelligence allows them to adapt their behavior to different environments. Monkeys, lemurs, apes, and even humans are primates.

The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center offers a group of fact sheets as a starting point to find information on different species of primates.

There are more than 300 species of primates on Earth divided into two suborders:

Prosimians: The prosimians, including lemurs and other similar animals, are the more primitive group. They are less intelligent than Anthropoids and more closely resemble other mammal groups. They are typically identified with their whiskers and extended snouts. About 50 species fall under prosimians.

Anthropoids: The anthropoids, also called the higher primates, include monkeys, apes, and hominids. They vary significantly in size, geographical range and behavior. However, all of them have characteristic flat faces, small ears and relatively large, complex brains than prosimians.

The Behavioral Science Department of Palomar College offers detailed information on the taxonomy and general characteristics of prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans.

Now, that you know both monkeys and apes fall under the similar primate suborder i.e. Anthropoid, it’s time to look at the key differences between them.

Monkeys Vs. Apes

1) Monkeys are sub-divided into Old World Monkeys (baboons, macaques, rhesus monkeys, colobus) and New World Monkeys (marmosets, tamarins, howler monkeys, spider) on the basis of their physical structure, characteristics, origin and geographics. Apes are subdivided into the lesser apes (Gibbons, Siamangs – smaller, longer arms) and great apes (Gorillas, Chimps, Bonobos, Orangutans).

2) There are over 250 species of monkeys, and most have visible tails. There are about 23 species of apes, which include orangutans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, but none of them have tails. Though their arms are longer than their legs.

3) Most monkeys cannot swing from branch to branch, as apes can. They can only run along the tops of branches.  This is because the shoulder bones of monkeys have a different structure than that of an ape.  Apes, on the other hand, are generally larger in stature, have bigger chests and human-like shoulders that enable them to swing easily from branch to branch.

4) On the evolutionary side, it is believed that apes have evolved along parallel lines with human beings, but monkeys haven’t. As such, the apes are much more like human beings than monkeys. They possess similar basic body structure, display similar behavior, and possess a high level of intelligence just like humans. Chimpanzees are the closest relatives to human beings. In fact, they share about 98.6% of our DNA.

5) As far as lifespan is concerned, while apes can live up to 60 years, monkeys can live for just up to 30 years.

6) While both apes and monkeys are clever. Apes are considered more intelligent. Both can think and solve problems like humans in their environments. For example, they can make and use tools for tasks such as net cracking, hunting and play.

7) Although monkeys can communicate with each other, apes are known for having more advanced cognitive and language skills. They can use sign language and other bodily movements to communicate with humans effectively. This is something that really brings apes closer to humans socially.

Other Interesting Facts about Monkeys and Apes

1) Orangutans have the longest childhood of any animal in the world. In fact, their babies feed on mother’s milk until they're 6 years old.

2) The roar of the howler monkey can reach 90 decibels. The sound is so loud that it can be heard even a mile away.

3) The mandrill, with its distinctive colorful muzzle, is the largest monkey on Earth. Dominant "alpha" males have the brightest pigmentation.

4) The Barbary macaques of Gibraltar are the only population of wild monkeys in Europe. They have a population of around 300.

5) Apes and Humans have the same blood type: A, B, AB, or O. This means, theoretically, an ape can donate blood to a human, but more research is required to determine whether it's medically possible.