An Illustrated Guide to the Primates

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Meet the Primates

This mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) is an Old World monkey that inhabits western Central Africa. Photo © Bas Vermolen / Getty Images.

Primates form a diverse group of mammals that includes lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes. Primates are notable for the complex social groups they form, their incredible dexterity, and the fact that they are the group to which humans belong.

The classification of primates places lemurs and lorises in their own suborder (Strepsirrhini) and the tarsiers, moneys, and apes in a second suborder (Haplorhini). In turn, the tarsiers, monkeys, and apes are further divided into two groups based on their geographical distribution. These groups include the Old World monkeys and the New World monkeys.

The Old World monkeys (Catarrhini) include numerous larger species of primates such as gibbons and great apes (including humans). The New World monkeys (Platyrrhini) are smaller and include spider monkeys and marmosets.

In this slideshow, we'll explore several individual species of primates and learn how each fits within the classification scheme of all primates.

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Tana River Mangabey

The Tana River mangabey is an endangered primate, with a declining population that is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,200 individuals. Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.

The Tana River mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus) is an endangered Old World monkey that lives in the forests that line the River Tana in southeastern Kenya.

Although the Tana River mangabey is common within its range, its range is limited and declining. The population of Tana River mangabeys is decreasing and the most recent survey that was undertaken revealed that there are between 1,000 to 1,200 wild individuals remaining. The greatest threat to the Tana River mangabey comes from deforestation and habitat destruction by humans who use the land for agricultural purposes and timber harvest.

The Tana River mangabey has a long semi-prehensile tail. Its coat is light brown and it has long fur on the top of its head. The Tana River mangabey forages on the ground, feeding on seeds, fruit, nuts, and other plant material.

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Black-Faced Vervet

The black-faced vervet is recognizable for its black face, hands, and feet. Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.

The black-faced vervet (Cercopithecus aethiops) is also known as the trivet, savanah monkey, or the African green monkey. The black-faced vervet is a species of Old World monkey that has a black face, hands, and feet and white fur above its eyes and on its cheeks. Black-faced vervets inhabit the open savannas and sparse woodlands of East Africa and the Rift Valley.

Although black-faced vervet are not listed as endangered, black-faced vervets are often hunted for bushmeat and for this reason face a direct threat from humans. Black-faced verve's feed on fruits and other plant materials but are not strict vegetarians. They also feed on small mammals, birds, and insects.

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Japanese Macaque

Photo © Keven Osborne / Getty Images.

The Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata) is an Old World monkey that is native to the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu (the species is not present on the Hokkaido Island). Japanese macaques have a thick coat of fur that enables them to deal with the cold temperatures they encounter in their ragne. They feed on a variety of foods including plants, insects, fruit, and seeds.

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Southern Plains Gray Langur

Photo © Philippe Marion / Getty Images.

The southern plains gray langur is a species of primate whose range includes the southwestern and western central regions of India. The southern plains gray langur inhabits tropical rainforests, riparian forests, open scrublands, and dry deciduous forests as well as cultivated lands. Southern plains gray langurs are relatively common trhoughout their range and are not listed as endangered.

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Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.

The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is a species of great ape that inhabits west Africa, Central Africa, and the Congo Basin. Common chimpanzees have black hair and a bare face with whiskers on their chin. They have bare hands and feet. Male chimpanzees are slightly larger and stockier than female chimpanzees. Common chimpanzees have good color vision and depth perception. They move on all fours when on the ground and in the trees. They are good climbers and are able to swing and cling to branches skillfully.

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Photo © Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Getty Images.

The gelada (Theropithecus gelada) is a large Old World monkey that live in the montane grasslands of central Ethiopia. Geladas live at elevations in the range of 1,800 and 4,400 meters. Geladas feed primarily on grass and occasionally seeds. They are diurnal primates, during the day the forage on grassy plateaus and at night they seek shelter in the cliffs at the edges of those plateaus.

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The bonobo (Pan paniscus) is one of two species in the chimpanzee family (the other is the common chimpanzee). The bonobo is an endangered specesi with less than 50,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Bonobos inhabit the forests of the Congo Basin. The bonobo is smaller than the common chimpanzee and for this reason is sometimes referred to as the pygmy chimpanzee.

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Rhesus Macaque


The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is a species of Old World monkey that inhabits Southeast Asia including countries such as China, Thailand, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Rhesus macaques have a brow to grey colored coat and a bare, pink face. The species inhabits a wide range of habitats that include grasslands, scrublands, forests, and rural areas. Rhesus macaques are diurnal primates. They spend their time in the trees and also forage on the ground. They feed on a variety of plant materials including seeds, fruit, bark, and buds.

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Geoffroy's spider monkey

Photo © Enrique R. Aguirre Aves / Getty Images.