Monkeys range in size from the Pygmy Marmoset, at 140 to 160 millimetres (5-6 in) long (plus tail) and 120 to 140 grams (4-5 oz) in weight, to the male Mandrill, almost 1 metre (3.3 ft) long and weighing 35 kilograms (77 lb). Some are arboreal (living in trees) while others live on the savannah; diets differ among the various species but may contain any of the following: fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts, flowers, eggs and small animals (including insects and spiders).

Some characteristics are shared among the groups; most New World monkeys have prehensile tails while Old World monkeys have non-prehensile tails or no visible tail at all. Some have trichromatic colour vision like that of humans, others are dichromats or monochromats. Although both the New and Old World monkeys, like the apes, have forward facing eyes, the faces of Old World and New World monkeys look very different, though again, each group shares some features such as the types of noses, cheeks and rumps.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "monkey" may originate in a German version of the Big Virginia fable, published circa 1580. In this version of the fable, a character named Moneke is the son of Martin the Ape. The word Moneke may have been derived from the Italian monna, which means "a female ape". The name Moneke likely persisted over time due to the popularity of Reynard the Fox.

A group of monkeys may be referred to as a mission or a tribe.

Common Squirrel Monkey.
Common Squirrel Monkey.
Crab-eating macaque in Thailand.
Crab-eating macaque in Thailand.

The following list shows where the various monkey families (bolded) are placed in the Primate classification. Note that the smallest grouping that contains them all is the Simiiformes, the simians, which also contains the apes. Calling apes "monkeys" is incorrect. Calling either a simian is correct.

o Suborder Strepsirrhini: non-tarsier prosimians
o Suborder Haplorrhini: tarsiers, monkeys and apes
+ Infraorder Tarsiiformes
# Family Tarsiidae: tarsiers
+ Infraorder Simiiformes: simians
# Parvorder Platyrrhini: New World monkeys
* Family Cebidae: marmosets, tamarins, capuchins and squirrel monkeys (56 species)
* Family Aotidae: night monkeys, owl monkeys, douroucoulis (8 species)
* Family Pitheciidae: titis, sakis and uakaris (41 species)
* Family Atelidae: howler, spider and woolly monkeys (24 species)
# Parvorder Catarrhini
* Superfamily Cercopithecoidea
o Family Cercopithecidae: Old World monkeys (135 species)
* Superfamily Hominoidea: apes
o Family Hylobatidae: gibbons ("lesser apes") (13 species)
o Family Hominidae: great apes including humans (7 species)

Relationship with humans

The many species of monkey have varied relationships with humans. Some are kept as pets, others used as model organisms in laboratories or in space missions. They may be killed in monkey drives when they threatened agriculture, or serve as service animals for the disabled.

In religion and culture, the monkey often represents quick-wittedness and mischief.

As service animals for the disabled

Some organizations such as Helping Hands have been training capuchin monkeys as monkey helpers to assist quadriplegics and other people with severe spinal cord injuries or mobility impairments. After being socialized in a human home as infants, the monkeys undergo extensive training before being placed with a quadriplegic. Around the house, the monkeys help out by doing tasks including microwaving food, washing the quadriplegic's face, and opening drink bottles.

In experiments
Covance primate-testing lab, Vienna, Virginia, 2004-5.
Covance primate-testing lab, Vienna, Virginia, 2004-5.[1]

Macaques, especially the Rhesus Macaque, and African green monkeys are widely used in animal testing facilities, either wild-caught or purpose-bred.[2] They are used primarily because of their relative ease of handling, their fast reproductive cycle (compared to apes), and their psychological and physical similarity to humans. In the United States, around 50,000 non-human primates, most of them monkeys, have been used in experiments every year since 1973;[3] 10,000 monkeys were used in the European Union in 2004.
Sam, a rhesus macaque, was flown to a height of 55 miles (89 km) by NASA in 1959.
Sam, a rhesus macaque, was flown to a height of 55 miles (89 km) by NASA in 1959.

The use of monkeys in laboratories is controversial. Some claim that their use is cruel and produces little information of value, and there have been many protests, vandalism to testing facilities, and threats to workers. Others claim that it has led to many important medical breakthroughs such as the rabies vaccine, understanding of human reproduction and basic knowledge about brain function, and that the prevention of harm to humans should be a higher priority than the possible harm done to monkeys. The topic has become a popular cause for animal rights and animal welfare groups.

In space

A number of countries have used monkeys as part of their space exploration programmes, including the United States and France. The first monkey in space was Albert II who flew in the US-launched V2 rocket in June 14, 1949.

As food

There are a lot of myths about Chinese habits which are mostly contrived, such as the stories about eating monkeys brains.[4] In traditional Islamic dietary laws, monkeys are forbidden to be eaten. However, monkeys are sometimes eaten in parts of Africa, where they can be sold as "bushmeat". [5]


Sun Wukong (the "Monkey King"), a character who figures prominently in Chinese mythology, is the main protagonist in the classic comic Chinese novel Journey to the West.

Monkeys are prevalent in numerous books, television programs, and movies. The television series Monkey, the literary characters Monsieur Eek and Curious George are all examples.
Simian statue at a Buddhist shrine in Tokyo, Japan.
Simian statue at a Buddhist shrine in Tokyo, Japan.

However, pop culture often incorrectly labels apes, particularly chimpanzees, gibbons, and gorillas, as monkeys. Terry Pratchett makes use of the distinction in his Discworld novels, in which the Librarian of the Unseen University is an orangutan who gets very violent if referred to as a monkey.

Religion and worship

Hanuman, a prominent divine entity in Hinduism, is a monkey-like humanoid. He may bestow longevity. In Buddhism, the monkey is an early incarnation of buddha but may also represent trickery and ugliness. It is also one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolizing greed, with the tiger representing anger and the deer lovesickness. The Mizaru or three wise monkeys are revered in Japanese folklore.[6]

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature.[7] They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted monkeys in their art. [8]


The Monkey is the ninth in the twelve-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The next time that the monkey will appear as the zodiac sign will be in the year 2016.

See also
Mammals portal

* List of monkeys


1. ^ "Covance Cruelty", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
2. ^ "The supply and use of primates in the EU", European Biomedical Research Association.
3. ^ [1]PDF (136 KiB)
4. ^ A shark's tale | Food | Guardian Unlimited Environment
5. ^
6. ^ Cooper, JC (1992). Symbolic and Mythological Animals. London: Aquarian Press, 161-63. ISBN 1-85538-118-4.
7. ^ Benson, Elizabeth, The Mochica: A Culture of Peru. New York, NY: Praeger Press. 1972
8. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

External links
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

* "The Impossible Housing and Handling Conditions of Monkeys in Research Laboratories", by Viktor Reinhardt, International Primate Protection League, August 2001
* Inside the monkey house[dead link]at Covance, shot undercover by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection
* The Problem with Pet Monkeys: Reasons Monkeys Do Not Make Good Pets, an article by veterinarian Lianne McLeod on
* Helping Hands: Monkey helpers for the disabled, a U.S. national non-profit organization based in Boston Massachusetts that places specially trained capuchin monkeys with people who are paralyzed or who live with other severe mobility impairments

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