Old World monkey

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Old World monkeys[1]
Temporal range: Oligocene–Recent
Olive baboon Ngorongoro.jpg
Olive baboon (Papio anubis)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Parvorder: Catarrhini
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Family: Cercopithecidae
Gray, 1821
Type genus
Linnaeus, 1758

Cercopithecinae - 12 genera
Colobinae - 11 genera

The Old World monkeys or Cercopithecidae are a family of catarrhines, the only family in the superfamily Cercopithecoidea in the clade (or parvorder) of Catarrhini.

The Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia today, inhabiting a range of environments from tropical rain forest to savanna, shrubland and mountainous terrain, and are also known from Europe in the fossil record. However, a (possibly introduced) free-roaming group of monkeys still survives in Gibraltar (Europe) to this day. Old World monkeys include many of the most familiar species of non-human primates, such as baboons and macaques. Currently, 138 species are recognised, making Cercopithecidae the largest primate family.

An adult Nilgiri langur in Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India


Old World monkeys are medium to large in size, and range from arboreal forms, such as the colobus monkeys, to fully terrestrial forms, such as the baboons. The smallest is the talapoin, with a head and body 34–37 cm in length, and weighing between 0.7 and 1.3 kilograms, while the largest is the male mandrill (the females of the species being significantly smaller), at around 70 cm in length, and weighing up to 50 kilograms.[2]

By superficial appearance, Old World monkeys are unlike apes in that most have tails (the family name means "tailed ape") and, unlike the New World monkeys (platyrrhines), in that their tails are never prehensile. Technically, the distinction of catarrhines from platyrrhines depends on the structure of the nose, and the distinction of Old World monkeys from apes depends on dentition (the number of teeth is the same in both, but they are shaped differently). In platyrrhines, the nostrils face sideways, while in catarrhines, they face downward. Other distinctions include both a tubular ectotympanic (ear bone), and eight, not twelve, premolars in catarrhines, giving them a dental formula of:

Paracolobus chemeroni fossil

Several Old World monkeys have anatomical oddities. For example, the colobus monkeys have stubs for thumbs to assist with their arboreal movement, the proboscis monkey has an extraordinary nose, while the snub-nosed monkeys have almost no nose at all.

The male mandrill's penis is red and the scrotum is lilac; the face is also brightly colored. The coloration is more pronounced in dominant males.[3]

Most Old World monkeys are at least partially omnivorous, but all prefer plant matter, which forms the bulk of their diet. Leaf monkeys are the most vegetarian, subsisting primarily on leaves, and eating only a small number of insects, while the other species are highly opportunistic, primarily eating fruit, but also consuming almost any food items available, such as flowers, leaves, bulbs and rhizomes, insects, snails, and even small vertebrates.[2] The Barbary macaque's diet consists mostly of leaves and roots, though it will also eat insects and uses cedar trees as a water source.[4]

Gestation in the Old World monkeys lasts between five and seven months. Births are usually single, although, as with humans, twins occur from time to time. The young are born relatively well-developed, and are able to cling onto their mother's fur with their hands from birth. Compared with most other mammals, they take a long time to reach sexual maturity, with four to six years being typical of most species.

In most species, daughters remain with their mothers for life, so that the basic social group among Old World monkeys is a matrilineal troop. Males leave the group on reaching adolescence, and find a new troop to join. In many species, only a single adult male lives with each group, driving off all rivals, but others are more tolerant, establishing hierarchical relationships between dominant and subordinate males. Group sizes are highly variable, even within species, depending on the availability of food and other resources.[2]


Black-footed gray langur, Semnopithecus hypoleucos
Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii)

Two subfamilies are recognized, the Cercopithecinae, which are mainly African, but include the diverse genus of macaques, which are Asian and North African, and the Colobinae, which includes most of the Asian genera, but also the African colobus monkeys.

The distinction between apes and monkeys is complicated by the traditional paraphyly of monkeys: Apes emerged as a sister group of Old World Monkeys in the catarrhines, which are a sister group of New World Monkeys. Therefore, cladistically, apes, catarrhines and related contemporary extinct groups, such as Parapithecidae, are monkeys as well, for any consistent definition of "monkey". "Old World monkey" may also legitimately be taken to be meant to include all the catarrhines, including apes and extinct species such as Aegyptopithecus,[5] in which case the apes, Cercopithecoidea and Aegyptopithecus and (under an even more expanded definition) even the Platyrrhini[6] emerged within the Old World monkeys.

Further classifications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Groves, C.P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 152–178. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b c Brandon-Jones, Douglas & Rowell, Thelma E. (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 370–405. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
  3. ^ Setchell, Joanna M., and Alan F. Dixson. "Developmental variables and dominance rank in adolescent male mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx)." American Journal of Primatology 56.1 (2002): 9-25.
  4. ^ Ciani, Andrea Camperio, Loredana Martinoli, Claudio Capiluppi, Mohamed Arahou, and Mohamed Mouna. "Effects of Water Availability and Habitat Quality on Bark-Stripping Behavior in Barbary Macaques." Conservation Biology 15.1 (n.d.): 259-65. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
  5. ^ AronRa (2010-01-16), Turns out we DID come from monkeys!, retrieved 2018-11-12
  6. ^ "Early Primate Evolution: The First Primates". anthro.palomar.edu. Retrieved 2017-08-12.

External links[edit]