Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jess from Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Jess Wonders, “What is the difference between monkeys and chimpanzees and apes? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jess!
We were wandering through the heart of the Wonderopolis jungle the other day when we overheard an interesting conversation between a couple of hairy creatures:
Monkey: Hand me another banana, pal.
Ape: Don't you think you've had enough already?
Monkey: No way! You know I go ape for bananas!
Ape: Here's the last one. Now stop monkeying around!
We tried to get a closer look at them, but we slipped on a banana peel and…well…we don't remember much after that!
Who were these creatures eating bananas? Were they monkeys? Could they have been apes? Or were they both? Exactly what is the difference between apes and monkeys anyway?
For much of history, people have used the terms "monkey" and "ape" interchangeably. In fact, many people today will refer to apes as monkeys and vice versa. There are definite differences between the two, though.
Before looking at differences, it's important to know that apes and monkeys are both primates. There are more than 300 species of primates on Earth, including human beings and other apes, monkeys, and prosimians, such as lemurs. Primates are distinguished by having hands, handlike feet, and forward-facing eyes. Except for humans, most primates are agile tree-dwellers.
Given that lemurs and humans are both primates, for example, you can see that there are significant differences between the many different types of primates. Most of the differences can be described in terms of physical characteristics and evolutionary development over time.
The quickest and easiest way to tell monkeys and apes apart is by looking for a tail. Apes do not have tails, while most monkey species do. Apes tend to be larger than monkeys and usually have larger brains. Apes also tend to live longer than monkeys.
Monkeys tend to have similar skeletal structures like that of smaller, four-legged mammals, such as cats and dogs. When moving through trees, monkeys run along branches, whereas apes swing from branch to branch using their arms (this is called brachiating).
Monkey species include baboons, macaques, marmosets, tamarins, and capuchins. Ape species include humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and bonobos.
In evolutionary and genetic terms, ape species are much closer to humans than monkeys are. In addition to having similar basic body structures, apes are highly intelligent and can exhibit human-like behavior. For example, chimpanzees, which are closest to humans genetically, can create simple tools and use them effectively.
Although monkeys communicate with each other, apes possess more advanced cognitive and language skills. They can't speak like humans, but they can use sign language and other bodily movements to communicate with humans effectively. Communication skills help gorillas, chimps, and bonobos develop complex social groups and even exhibit some aspects of culture. Like humans, apes can think and solve problems in their environments.