Old World monkey

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Old World monkeys[1]
Fossil range: Oligocene to Recent
Black-footed Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hypoleucos
Black-footed Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hypoleucos
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorrhini
Parvorder: Catarrhini
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Gray, 1821
Family: Cercopithecidae
Gray, 1821

Cercopithecinae - 11 genera
Colobinae - 10 genera

An Old World monkey is any member of the primate family Cercopithecidae of the superfamily Cercopithecoidea in the clade Catarrhini, typically characterized by close-set nostrils that are downward or forward facing, a tubular ear bone, and a tail, if present, that is never prehensile (adapted for grasping or holding). Old World monkeys include many of the most familiar species of non-ape primates such as baboons and macaques.

Old World monkeys are grouped in Catarrhini with apes of the Old World (all extant species of which are tailless). The other group of monkeys, known as New World monkeys and placed in the clade Platyrrhini, generally have flatter noses, with side-facing nostrils, and some species have prehensile tails.

Extant species of Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia, inhabiting a range of environments from tropical rain forest to savanna, scrubland, and mountainous terrain; they are also known from Europe in the fossil record. However, a (possibly introduced) free-roaming group of monkeys still survives in Gibraltar (Europe) to this day.

Old World monkeys provide an important ecological role in terrestrial food chains, consuming plant matter (leaves, fruit, flowers, etc.) and generally some animals as well (insects, snails, small vertebrates, etc.), and being consumed by large cats (leopards, tigers, etc.), birds of prey, and humans. For humans, these monkeys are popular sightings in the wild or in zoos, and some, such as the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), have been used extensively in medical and biological research. The rhesus monkey also has given its name to the rhesus factor, one of the elements of a person's blood group.


Old World monkeys, together with apes of the Old World, comprise one of the three major informal groups of the biological order Primates, the other two groups being prosimians and New World monkeys. Together, the New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys and apes are considered to be "higher primates," or simians (infraorder Similformes), while the prosimians (such as lemurs) are considered to be the "lower primates." The term monkey, thus, refers to any simian that is not an ape or any primate that is neither an ape nor a prosimian. In reality, monkeys are not a single coherent group and therefore do not have any particular traits that they all share.

Technically, the distinction of catarrhines (Old World monkeys and apes) from platyrrhines (New World monkeys) depends on the structure of the nose, and the distinction of Old World monkeys from apes depends on dentition (the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth).

Old World monkeys differ slightly from New World monkeys in several aspects. The most prominent difference is the nose, which is the feature used most commonly to distinguish between the two groups. The scientific name for the New World monkeys, Platyrrhini, means "flat nosed." The noses of New World monkeys are flatter than the narrow noses of the Old World monkeys, and New World monkeys have side facing nostrils versus the close-set, downward or forward facing nostrils of Old World monkeys. Also New World monkeys (except for the howler monkeys of genus Alouatta (Jacobs et al. 1996)) lack the trichromatic vision of Old World monkeys (Carroll 2006). Other distinctions include the presence of a tubular ectotympanic (ear bone) in Old World monkeys and the presence of twelve premolars in catarrhines, versus eight in platyrrhines. The dental formula of catarrhines is:

New World monkeys include the only primates with tails that are prehensile. Catarrhines lack prehensile tails.

From the point of view of superficial appearance, Old World monkeys are unlike apes in that most have tails. All living members of the apes are tailless. However, there are also primates in other families that lack tails and some Old World monkey species lack tails. More specifically, the apes can be distinguished from Old World monkeys by the number of cusps on their molars: apes have five, the "Y-5" molar pattern, while Old World monkeys have only four in a "bilophodont" pattern. Apes have more mobile shoulder joints and arms, ribcages that are flatter front-to-back, and a shorter, less mobile spine compared to Old World monkeys. These are all anatomical adaptations to vertical hanging and swinging locomotion (brachiation) in the apes.

The following is the relationship of the various groups of primates.

  • Order Primates
    • Suborder Strepsirrhini: non-tarsier prosimians
    • Suborder Haplorrhini: tarsiers, monkeys and apes
Infraorder Tarsiiformes
Infraorder Simiiformes
Parvorder Platyrrhini: New World monkeys
Parvorder Catarrhini
Superfamily Cercopithecoidea
Family Cercopithecidae: Old World monkeys
Superfamily Hominoidea: Apes (gibbons, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, humans)


Old World monkeys are medium to large in size, and range from arboreal forms, such as the colobus monkeys, to fully terrestrial forms, such as the baboons. The smallest is the Talapoin, with a head and body 34 to 37 centimeters (13.4 to 14.6 inches) in length, and weighing between 0.7 and 1.3 kilograms (1.5 to 2.9 pounds), while the largest is the male mandrill (the females of the species being significantly smaller), at around 70 centimeters (27.6 inches) in length, and weighing up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) (Brandon-Jones and Rowell 1984).

Several Old World monkeys have anatomical oddities. The colobus monkeys have a stub for a thumb to assist with their arboreal movement. The proboscis monkey has an extraordinary nose while the snub-nosed monkeys have almost no nose at all. The penis of the male mandrill is colored red and the scrotum has a lilac color, while the face also has bright coloration like the genitalia and this develops in only the dominant male of a multi-male group.

Olive baboon

Most Old World monkeys are at least partially omnivorous, but all prefer plant matter, which forms the bulk of their diet. Leaf monkeys are the most vegetarian, subsisting primarily on leaves, and eating only a small number of insects, while the other species are highly opportunistic, primarily eating fruit, but also consuming almost any food items available, such as flowers, leaves, bulbs and rhizomes, insects, snails, and even small vertebrates (Brandon-Jones and Rowell 1984).

Gestation in the Old World monkeys lasts between five and seven months. Births are usually single, although, as with humans, twin births do also occur from time to time. The young are born relatively well developed, and are able to cling onto their mother's fur with their hands from birth. Compared with most other mammals, they take a long time to reach sexual maturity, with four to six years being typical of most species.

In most species, daughters remain with their mothers for life, so that the basic social group among Old World monkeys is a matrilineal troop. Males leave the group on reaching adolescence, and find a new troop to join. In many species, only a single adult male lives with each group, driving off all rivals, but others are more tolerant, establishing hierarchical relationships between dominant and subordinate males. Group sizes are highly variable, even within species, depending on the availability of food and other resources (Brandon-Jones and Rowell 1984).


Two subfamilies of Old World monkeys are recognized, Cercopithecinae and Colobinae. The cercopithecines are mainly African but include the diverse genus of macaques, which are Asian and North African. This group also includes baboons and mandrills, among others. The colobines includes most of the Asian genera but also the African colobus monkeys. Langurs and proboscis monkeys are among those included in Colobinae. Members of the Colobinae subfamily are distinguished from members of Cercopithecinae by, among other aspects, the absence of cheek pouches and the presence of prominent ischial (rump) callosities, which are contiguous in males and separate in females (Kim 2002).

  • Superfamily Cercopithecoidea
    • Family Cercopithecidae: Old World monkeys
      • Subfamily Cercopithecinae
        • Tribe Cercopithecini
          • Genus Allenopithecus
            • Allen's Swamp Monkey, Allenopithecus nigroviridis
          • Genus Miopithecus
            • Angolan Talapoin, Miopithecus talapoin
            • Gabon Talapoin, Miopithecus ogouensis
          • Genus Erythrocebus
            • Patas Monkey, Erythrocebus patas
          • Genus Chlorocebus
            • Green Monkey, Chlorocebus sabaeus
            • Grivet, Chlorocebus aethiops
            • Bale Mountains Vervet, Chlorocebus djamdjamensis
            • Tantalus Monkey, Chlorocebus tantalus
            • Vervet Monkey, Chlorocebus pygerythrus
            • Malbrouck, Chlorocebus cynosuros
          • Genus Cercopithecus
            • Dryas Monkey or Salongo Monkey, Cercopithecus dryas
            • Diana Monkey, Cercopithecus diana
            • Roloway Monkey, Cercopithecus roloway
            • Greater Spot-nosed Monkey, Cercopithecus nictitans
            • Blue Monkey, Cercopithecus mitis
            • Silver Monkey, Cercopithecus doggetti
            • Golden Monkey, Cercopithecus kandti
            • Sykes's Monkey, Cercopithecus albogularis
            • Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus mona
            • Campbell's Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus campbelli
            • Lowe's Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus lowei
            • Crested Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus pogonias
            • Wolf's Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus wolfi
            • Dent's Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus denti
            • Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Cercopithecus petaurista
            • White-throated Guenon, Cercopithecus erythrogaster
            • Sclater's Guenon, Cercopithecus sclateri
            • Red-eared Guenon, Cercopithecus erythrotis
            • Moustached Guenon, Cercopithecus cephus
            • Red-tailed Monkey, Cercopithecus ascanius
            • L'Hoest's Monkey, Cercopithecus lhoesti
            • Preuss's Monkey, Cercopithecus preussi
            • Sun-tailed Monkey, Cercopithecus solatus
            • Hamlyn's Monkey, Cercopithecus hamlyni
            • De Brazza's Monkey, Cercopithecus neglectus
        • Tribe Papionini
          • Genus Macaca
            • Barbary Macaque, Macaca sylvanus
            • Lion-tailed Macaque, Macaca silenus
            • Southern Pig-tailed Macaque or Beruk, Macaca nemestrina
            • Northern Pig-tailed Macaque, Macaca leonina
            • Pagai Island Macaque or Bokkoi, Macaca pagensis
            • Siberut Macaque, Macaca siberu
            • Moor Macaque, Macaca maura
            • Booted Macaque, Macaca ochreata
            • Tonkean Macaque, Macaca tonkeana
            • Heck's Macaque, Macaca hecki
            • Gorontalo Macaque, Macaca nigrescens
            • Celebes Crested Macaque or Black "Ape," Macaca nigra
            • Crab-eating Macaque or Long-tailed Macaque or Kera, Macaca fascicularis
            • Stump-tailed Macaque or Bear Macaque, Macaca arctoides
            • Rhesus Macaque, Macaca mulatta
            • Formosan Rock Macaque, Macaca cyclopis
            • Japanese Macaque, Macaca fuscata
            • Toque Macaque, Macaca sinica
            • Bonnet Macaque, Macaca radiata
            • Assam Macaque, Macaca assamensis
            • Tibetan Macaque or Milne-Edwards' Macaque, Macaca thibetana
            • Arunachal Macaque or Munzala, Macaca munzala
          • Genus Lophocebus
            • Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Lophocebus albigena
            • Black Crested Mangabey, Lophocebus aterrimus
            • Opdenbosch's Mangabey, Lophocebus opdenboschi
            • Uganda Mangabey, Lophocebus ugandae
            • Johnston's Mangabey, Lophocebus johnstoni
            • Osman Hill's Mangabey, Lophocebus osmani
          • Genus Rungwecebus
            • Kipunji, Rungwecebus kipunji
          • Genus Papio
            • Hamadryas Baboon, Papio hamadryas
            • Guinea Baboon, Papio papio
            • Olive Baboon, Papio anubis
            • Yellow Baboon, Papio cynocephalus
            • Chacma Baboon, Papio ursinus
          • Genus Theropithecus
            • Gelada, Theropithecus gelada
          • Genus Cercocebus
            • Sooty Mangabey, Cercocebus atys
            • Collared Mangabey, Cercocebus torquatus
            • Agile Mangabey, Cercocebus agilis
            • Golden-bellied Mangabey, Cercocebus chrysogaster
            • Tana River Mangabey, Cercocebus galeritus
            • Sanje Mangabey, Cercocebus sanjei
          • Genus Mandrillus
            • Mandrill, Mandrillus sphinx
            • Drill, Mandrillus leucophaeus
      • Subfamily Colobinae
        • African group
          • Genus Colobus
            • Black Colobus, Colobus satanas
            • Angola Colobus, Colobus angolensis
            • King Colobus, Colobus polykomos
            • Ursine Colobus, Colobus vellerosus
            • Mantled Guereza, Colobus guereza
          • Genus Piliocolobus
            • Western Red Colobus, Piliocolobus badius
            • Pennant's Colobus, Piliocolobus pennantii
            • Preuss's Red Colobus, Piliocolobus preussi
            • Thollon's Red Colobus, Piliocolobus tholloni
            • Central African Red Colobus, Piliocolobus foai
            • Ugandan Red Colobus, Piliocolobus tephrosceles
            • Uzungwa Red Colobus, Piliocolobus gordonorum
            • Zanzibar Red Colobus, Piliocolobus kirkii
            • Tana River Red Colobus, Piliocolobus rufomitratus
          • Genus Procolobus
            • Olive Colobus, Procolobus verus
        • Langur (leaf monkey) group
          • Genus Semnopithecus
            • Nepal Gray Langur, Semnopithecus schistaceus
            • Kashmir Gray Langur, Semnopithecus ajax
            • Tarai Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hector
            • Northern Plains Gray Langur, Semnopithecus entellus
            • Black-footed Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hypoleucos
            • Southern Plains Gray Langur, Semnopithecus dussumieri
            • Tufted Gray Langur, Semnopithecus priam
          • Genus Trachypithecus
            • T. vetulus group
              • Purple-faced Langur, Trachypithecus vetulus
              • Nilgiri Langur, Trachypithecus johnii
            • T. cristatus group
              • Javan Lutung, Trachypithecus auratus
              • Silvery Lutung or Silvered Leaf Monkey, Trachypithecus cristatus
              • Indochinese Lutung, Trachypithecus germaini
              • Tenasserim Lutung, Trachypithecus barbei
            • T. obscurus group
              • Dusky Leaf Monkey or Spectacled Leaf Monkey, Trachypithecus obscurus
              • Phayre's Leaf Monkey, Trachypithecus phayrei
            • T. pileatus group
              • Capped Langur, Trachypithecus pileatus
              • Shortridge's Langur, Trachypithecus shortridgei
              • Gee's Golden Langur, Trachypithecus geei
            • T. francoisi group
              • Francois' Langur, Trachypithecus francoisi
              • Hatinh Langur, Trachypithecus hatinhensis
              • White-headed Langur, Trachypithecus poliocephalus
              • Laotian Langur, Trachypithecus laotum
              • Delacour's Langur, Trachypithecus delacouri
              • Indochinese Black Langur, Trachypithecus ebenus
          • Genus Presbytis
            • Sumatran Surili, Presbytis melalophos
            • Banded Surili, Presbytis femoralis
            • Sarawak Surili, Presbytis chrysomelas
            • White-thighed Surili, Presbytis siamensis
            • White-fronted Surili, Presbytis frontata
            • Javan Surili, Presbytis comata
            • Thomas's Langur, Presbytis thomasi
            • Hose's Langur, Presbytis hosei
            • Maroon Leaf Monkey, Presbytis rubicunda
            • Mentawai Langur or Joja, Presbytis potenziani
            • Natuna Island Surili, Presbytis natunae
        • Odd-Nosed group
          • Genus Pygathrix
            • Red-shanked Douc, Pygathrix nemaeus
            • Black-shanked Douc, Pygathrix nigripes
            • Gray-shanked Douc, Pygathrix cinerea
          • Genus Rhinopithecus
            • Golden Snub-nosed Monkey, Rhinopithecus roxellana
            • Black Snub-nosed Monkey, Rhinopithecus bieti
            • Gray Snub-nosed Monkey, Rhinopithecus brelichi
            • Tonkin Snub-nosed Langur, Rhinopithecus avunculus
          • Genus Nasalis
            • Proboscis Monkey, Nasalis larvatus
          • Genus Simias
            • Pig-tailed Langur, Simias concolor


  1. C. Groves, "Order Primates," "Order Monotremata," (and select other orders). Page(s) 152-178 in D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder, eds., Mammal Species of the World, 3rd edition, Johns Hopkins University Press (2005). ISBN 0801882214.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brandon-Jones, D., and T. Rowell. Guenons, macaques, and baboons; Colobus and leaf monkeys. in D. W. Macdonald, ed., The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0871968711, 370-405.
  • Carroll, S. B. 2006. The Making of the Fittest. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 9780393061635.
  • Groves, C. "Order Primates," "Order Monotremata," (and select other orders).) 152-178 in D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder, eds., Mammal Species of the World, 3rd edition, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. ISBN 0801882214
  • Kim, K. 2002. Colobus guereza. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved February 13, 2009.


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