Lemurs, lorises, and galagos are not monkeys; instead they are strepsirrhine (“wet-nosed”) primates. Like monkeys, tarsiers are haplorhine primates; however, they are also not monkeys. There are two major types of monkey: New World monkeys (platyrrhines) from South and Central America and Old World monkeys (catarrhines of the superfamily Cercopithecoidea) from Africa and Asia. Hominoid apes (gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans), which all lack tails, are also catarrhines but are not considered monkeys. (Tailless monkeys may be called “apes”, incorrectly according to modern usage; thus the tailless Barbary macaque is sometimes called the “Barbary ape”.) Simians (“monkeys”) and tarsiers emerged within haplorrhines some 60 million years ago. New World monkeys and catarrhine monkeys emerged within the simians some 35 millions years ago. Old World monkeys and Hominoidea emerged within the catarrhine monkeys some 25 millions years ago. Extinct basal simians such as Aegyptopithecus or Parapithecus [35-32 million years ago] are also considered monkeys by primatologists.
Historical and modern terminology
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “monkey” may originate in a German version of the Reynard the Fox fable, published circa 1580. In this version of the fable, a character named Moneke is the son of Martin the Ape. In English, no very clear distinction was originally made between “ape” and “monkey”; thus the 1910 Encyclopædia Britannica entry for “ape” notes that it is either a synonym for “monkey” or is used to mean a tailless humanlike primate. Colloquially, the terms “monkey” and “ape” are widely used interchangeably. Also, a few monkey species have the word “ape” in their common name, such as the Barbary ape.
Later in the first half of the 20th century, the idea developed that there were trends in primate evolution and that the living members of the order could be arranged in a series, leading through “monkeys” and “apes” to humans. Monkeys thus constituted a “grade” on the path to humans and were distinguished from “apes”.
Scientific classifications are now more often based on monophyletic groups, that is groups consisting of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys are each monophyletic groups, but their combination is not, since it excludes hominoids (apes and humans). Thus the term “monkey” no longer refers to a recognized scientific taxon. The smallest accepted taxon which contains all the monkeys is the infraorder Simiiformes, or simians. However this also contains the hominoids (apes and humans), so that monkeys are, in terms of currently recognized taxa, non-hominoid simians. Colloquially and pop-culturally, the term is ambiguous and sometimes monkey includes non-human hominoids. In addition, frequent arguments are made for a monophyletic usage of the word “monkey” from the perspective that usage should reflect cladistics.
A group of monkeys may be commonly referred to as a tribe or a troop.
Monkeys range in size from the pygmy marmoset, which can be as small as 117 millimetres (4.6 in) with a 172-millimetre (6.8 in) tail and just over 100 grams (3.5 oz) in weight, to the male mandrill, almost 1 metre (3.3 ft) long and weighing up to 36 kilograms (79 lb). Some are arboreal (living in trees) while others live on the savanna; 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. Old World monkeys have trichromatic color vision like that of humans, while New World monkeys may be trichromatic, dichromatic, or—as in the owl monkeys and greater galagos—monochromatic. 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.