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With over 260 species of monkey in the world, you can find them on almost every continent. From the tropical rainforests of the Amazon to the cold and snowy mountains of Asia, monkeys are one of the most widespread animal groups.
In the Amazon rainforest of South America, you will find many different monkey species. Small primates like Capuchins, Tamarins and Marmosets share the hot and humid jungle with larger species such as Howlers, Titis and Spider Monkeys.
Most monkey species are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time in the trees. To be able to navigate among the treetops, monkeys have long prehensile tails and long arms. ‘Prehensile’ means functional. Most monkeys can use their tail like an extra limb, wrapping it around branches and swinging from it. Their strong arms also help to support their body weight will the move from tree to tree.
Monkeys have very similar facial features to humans. Their eyes are set in the front of their face, so they cannot see to the side or behind them. Most monkeys also have trichromatic vision, meaning they can see color.
The hands are also very similar to our own. They have opposable thumbs, which means they can use their thumbs like fingers. The difference between monkeys and humans, is that they can use their feet like hands as well! Rather than having 5 toes like we do, monkeys have a digit on their foot similar to a thumb.
Monkeys are omnivores, meaning they eat fruit, berries and insects. A small number of monkey species will even eat small rodents or lizards that have recently died. The majority of a monkey diet is formed from fruits and berries. Monkeys can use tools to find food too. They use sticks to dig for termites and they can open coconuts by throwing them against trees or bashing them with a rock!
Monkeys do not have a set breeding season like other animals. A female can fall pregnant at any time. Monkeys have a strict hierarchy and only the dominant male of a group will father children. If a lone male beats the group leader in a fight, the new male will kill any youngsters as this makes the females more likely to want to mate.
Our closest living relatives among monkeys is the Chimpanzee. Human and chimp lineage split approximately 6 million years ago, so we became 2 distinct species. Gorillas also share a lot of DNA with us. Our common ancestor split from Gorillas around 8 million years ago.
Most evidence of monkey evolution points to changes in the environment being the main cause.
There are two distinct branches of monkeys. Old World and New World. Old World monkeys include Gorillas and Orang Utans that have been on the planet millions of years. New World monkeys are those that branched off from Old World monkeys. New World monkeys are smaller and it is these species that seem to have evolved with the changing environment, learning to live in trees rather than on the ground.
Smaller species of monkey are more likely to have predators. In the rainforests, smaller monkeys are at risk from cats like Leopards, large snakes and lizards. The smaller the monkey, the easier they are to catch and eat. Big cats that live in the jungle are able to climb trees very well, which means monkeys cannot use the trees to hide.
Monkey Social Structure
Monkeys are social animals and live in groups consisting of a dominant male, subordinate males, breeding females, teenage monkeys and babies. Sometimes, males will leave their family group to form a group of their own by taking females from another group or fighting a dominant male and claiming the entire group for himself.
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