PRIMATE FACTS

WHO AND WHAT ARE NONHUMAN PRIMATES?

Primates are mammals that typically have large highly developed brains, forward-facing color vision, flexible hands and feet with opposable thumbs, and fingernails. Primates have slower developmental rates than other similarly sized mammals and reach maturity later, but have longer lifespans. With the exception of humans, who live throughout the globe, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions.

The biological order “Primates” is divided into the following classifications:

  • Great Apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, humans, and orangutans
  • Small Apes: gibbons 
  • Monkeys: baboons, capuchin monkeys, colobus monkeys, drills, geladas, guenons, howler monkeys, langurs, macaques, mandrills, mangabeys, marmosets, night monkeys, patas monkeys, proboscis monkeys, sakis, snub-nosed monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, titis, uakaris, and woolly monkeys
  • Prosimians: the oldest, most “primitive” order of primates, including galagos or bushbabies, lemurs, lorises, pottos, angwantibos, and tarsiers.

There are an estimated 704 species and subspecies of primates. 69% are threatened by extinction.

WHERE DO NONHUMAN PRIMATES LIVE?

Nonhuman primates live in regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most live in tropical climates along the equator. 

  • Great apes live in Africa and Asia
  • Small apes (gibbons) live only in Asia
  • Monkeys live naturally in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Introduced* populations live in Gibraltar, on a few Caribbean islands, and in parts of the United States. But these are not their natural homes
  • Prosimians live in Africa and Asia
WHAT IS AN INTRODUCED OR INVASIVE SPECIES?

An Introduced Species is a species living outside its native distributional range, which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Non-native species can have various effects on the local ecosystem. Introduced species that become established and spread beyond the place of introduction are called invasive species. The impact of introduced species is highly variable. Some have a negative effect on a local ecosystem, while other introduced species may have no negative effect or only minor impact.

Worldwide Distribution of Nonhuman Primates
Visit Where Primates Live to learn more about where in the world primates live and the importance of preserving and protecting their natural habitats.  

NEW WORLD AND OLD WORLD MONKEYS

What's the Difference?

NEW WORLD MONKEYS

  • Found from southern Mexico to Central and South America, except in the highest mountains
  • Are more primitive than Old World monkeys.
  • Their brains are considered less complex than those of Old World monkeys
  • Their thumbs, when present, are not opposable
  • Their nostrils are further apart and tend to point outward
  • Most have 36 teeth
  • They have slender bodies and limbs with long narrow hands
  • Most have a prehensile or partially prehensile tail
  • Include marmosets, tamarins, titis, capuchins, spider monkeys, woolly monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys, the sakis, and the uakaris
  • No nonhuman apes are endemic to the New World
  • No prosimians are endemic to the New World

OLD WORLD MONKEYS

  • Found in southern Asia, with a few species as far north as Japan and northern China, and in all of Africa except the most arid deserts
  • Most, but not all, have opposable thumbs
  • Their tails are are never prehensile
  • Their nostrils are close together and tend to point downward
  • Many species have cheek pouches to hold food, and many have thick pads on their buttocks
  • They have 32 teeth
  • Are more closely related to the apes and, therefore, humans than they are to the New World monkeys
  • Include baboons, colobus monkeys, drills, geladas, grivets, guenons, kipunjis, langurs, leaf monkeys, macaques, malbroucks, mandrills, mangabeys, langurs, patas monkeys, proboscis monkeys, snub-nosed monkeys, surilis, swamp monkeys, talapoins, tantalus monkeys, and vervets
  • All apes are found in Old World regions of the world
  • Prosimians are also found in Old World regions
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR PRIMATE COUSINS?

Visit Primate Species Profiles to find your favorites and learn more!

View short video clips about each species.

Learn how many primate species there are.

Learn about your favorites

You may be surprised by what you’ll find!