The Fabulous World of Clinging Monkeys

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

The monkey is a sweet animal known for being hyperactive, playful, funny, and extremely smart. Let’s also not forget about its incredible ability to swing from and cling to tree branches thanks to its long, strong arms and hands. This has got the monkey known as the tree-dweller. 

Monkeys are classified as primates. Primates are mammals whose brains are large. They have a good ability to use their hands and fingers. For instance, they use their thumbs to grab and hold things and use tools. 

Primates also enjoy a sharp sense of vision compared to their other senses as well as those of other animals. And they can see in colours. Furthermore, they are very social creatures and usually live in families and societies.

The monkey is notably distinct from all the other primates. While the rest of them are known for having very few species, monkeys do have numerous ones. For instance, there is only one human species, two gorilla species, two chimpanzee species, and three orangutan species.

On the flip side, monkeys have 336 recognised species of all the sizes, colours, habitat types, and social structures one can think of.

Old World vs New World

These 336 monkey species are divided into two categories to make the process of studying them easier.

The first category is the Old World monkeys, and they include 138 species. The remaining species are classified as New World monkeys. We can differentiate between the two classifications by either the habitat or, well, the nose!

The Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia, while the New World monkeys originally come from the Americas. In addition, Old World monkeys have narrow noses that are pointed downward. On the other hand, New World monkeys have flat noses, with the nostrils being relatively separated and directed outward.

In previous articles, we discussed different species of Old World monkeys, such as the Japanese macaque, the lar gibbon, the proboscis monkey, and the hamadryas baboon. In today’s lesson, we are going to continue exploring the impressive world of monkeys with four more Old World monkey species as well as two New World monkeys.

So let’s hop into it

(1) Mandrill

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You might also know it as Rafiki, the wise guard, old monkey from Disney’s masterpiece film The Lion King.

The mandrill is an Old World monkey that is native to West-Central Africa. It precisely lives in the rainforests around the Equator. It is mostly characterised by its large size, at least compared to other monkey species, as well as its beautifully coloured face. 

When the mandrill was first discovered by humans, biologists were quite confused about how to classify it. Swiss Naturalist Conrad Gessner thought it was a hyena species despite the monkey’s standing positions and knuckle-walking.

Zoologists wrote many theories and performed studies on the mandrill for centuries. But in 2011, some genetic studies revealed that the mandrill is related to another Old Monkey species called white-eyelid mangabey. You can think of them as close relatives that descended from the same ancestor.

It is believed that the mandrill population has decreased dramatically. One thing that poses threats to the poor mandrill is habitat loss, represented by cutting down trees. 

Consequently, the mandrill was listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That means the animal is at risk of going extinct if it does not receive care to allow more reproduction.

Appearance of the Mandrill

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Look-wise, the mandrill is quite an attractive monkey. Speaking of the size, it is the largest compared to all the other 335 monkey species.

Interestingly, there are obvious differences between male and female mandrills. This is known as sexual dimorphism. These differences can be related to the size. In that case, males are usually larger than females. Both sexes can also possess different appearances.

When it comes to mandrills, the difference is only in the size. Male mandrills usually have a total body length of 95 to 70 cm and weigh between 19 and 30 kg. On the other hand, females are only 70 cm long at maximum and have an average weight of 12.5 kg. Both males and females have tails that almost have the same length, ranging between 7 and 10 cm.

The mandrill’s body is covered with a short, greyish, brownish fur coat. The hair on the head is dark brown with some yellowish-grey areas. Around the neck and down to the shoulders, the hair is orange.

Besides, the mandrill has a light orange beard and white whiskers around its nose. These whiskers are very obvious and dense in males that they look like a moustache. The mandrill also has a large head, big muzzle, and long arms, which allow the monkey to walk easily on its knuckles.

The mandrill is also characterised by its large teeth, whose length is different in males and females. Both sexes have what is known as canine teeth. Canine teeth are long, sharp, pointed teeth that many animals, such as lions and tigers, have. They use them to tear food.

In mandrills, males can grow their canine teeth to reach 4.5. On the other hand, the females’ teeth are much shorter; they can only grow to become 1 cm long.

Besides tearing food, mandrills use these canine teeth to defend themselves. Showing the canine teeth is an aggressive gesture that the mandrill uses to scare attackers. And if the mandril ever gets into a fight, it uses the canine teeth to hurt its opponent. That said, hiding the canine teeth shows friendliness.

Interestingly, the mandrill has cheek pouches just like these of a squirrel. It uses them to store food for later.

Now we come to what clearly makes the mandrill such a beautiful monkey: the face. A red line runs through the face from between the eyes to the nose. The nose and lips are reddish pink too. There are also blue lines on each of the monkey’s cheeks. These blue and red colours can be either darker in some individuals or lighter in others.

Sometimes females may have darker colours, and this is mainly caused by melanin. Melanin is a pigment inside the body that gives the skin, hair, and iris a dark colour.  Sometimes the grooves on their cheeks can have grey or even black.

The mandrill has big, pink ears, but they disappear in the dense hair. The eyes are hazel-brown. Their upper eyelid is pink, looking as if the animal is wearing eyeshadow. The lower eyelid, on the other hand, is blue.

Both males and females have pink buttocks, which sometimes can become blue.

Mandrill: Feeding

Like many other animals, the mandrill eats both plants and meat. This gives it a large variety of things to feed on. That said, we can still say that the mandrill is more dependent on plants when it comes to feeding. 

For instance, the mandrill eats a lot of fruit which makes up half of its diet. In addition to fruit, this monkey eats leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, and mushrooms. The mandrill also eats insects such as ants, spiders, snails, and scorpions, as well as reptiles like frogs and rodents like mice. And it eats birds and bird eggs too.

The mandrill usually forages during the day. It wakes up in the morning and goes out to search for food, play, and groom up until the evening. Then it rests from evening till the next morning. Animals that have this same behaviour are called diurnal. 

On the other hand, the mandrill is also food for some predators. For instance, leopards sometimes chase and prey on adult and young mandrills. The crowned eagle, which is an African eagle species, may also attack the young mandrills and feed on them. Mandrills can also be attacked by snakes and chimpanzees.

Mandrill: Breeding

Mandrill males and females are mature enough to mate and breed at different ages. While females can mate when they are four to seven years old, males are not mature except when they turn nine.

Mandrills breed every couple of years, usually between June and October. Females typically stay pregnant for a total of 5.7 months or 175 days. Then they give birth to one baby that is born between January and March.

Mandrill infants are usually relatively small at birth, weighing around 640 g on average. Their bodies are not covered with any hair except some short white hair on the head and dark hair along the spine. That is why their ears look so big.

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Their faces are also quite pale and have no distinct colours at all except the regular light pink skin colour. Sometimes faces can be dark grey with a pink line running through them.

Interestingly, some infants are born with heterochromia. This is a case when both eyes have different colours. In some babies, one eye can be brown, and the other is blue. Humans can also be born with heterochromia. Yet, it is fairly uncommon among them. 

Mothers are mainly responsible for taking care of their infants. They feed them highly nutritious milk, groom them, play with them, and carry them around on their bellies and backs.

Infants nurse for about 7.5 months, growing in size and looking more colourful like adults. After that, they get introduced to solid food and start to feed themselves.

As infants grow older, their hair grows to have a combination of yellowish-orange and grey colours. These colours get darker the older infants become. Males become fully grown at the age of nine years old, while females do this much earlier, usually at seven years old.

Mandrills can live between 12 and 14 years in their habitat. But if they are kept in captivity like in zoos and conserves, they can live up to 30 and sometimes even 40 years.

Mandrill: Society

In general, monkeys are distinctive for their highly complicated social structure. As we have demonstrated in previous articles, the Japanese macaque, the proboscis monkey, and the baboon all live in groups where individuals have different social ranks. These ranks determine the monkeys’ positions and their power over the group. 

When it comes to the mandrill, the largest and most colourful monkey species, it is no different.

While Japanese macaques live in groups known as troops with a maximum of 30 individuals and a few troops might have 100 individuals, mandrills have much bigger groups.

Mandrills live in large or supergroups known as hordes. A horde is the basic unit of the mandrill’s community. Every horde contains a few hundred members of adult males, females, and offspring. On average, up to 600 individuals can be in only one horde.

The largest horde was found in a national park in Gabon and had more than 800 mandrills. No other monkey species has a basic group as large as that of the mandrill. Sadly, hunting the mandrill, which is another threat that is decreasing the animal population, has led to hordes having much fewer members.

In the one horde, mandrills have different social ranks based on their overall physical strength. The most dominant males in the horde are usually the strongest who could take down other males. These are the leaders of the group, the alphas.

Interestingly, alpha mandrills are more distinct than less dominant males. Once they gain superiority over the group, their bodies undergo certain physical changes that distinguish them from other males.

For instance, their faces become redder, and the grooves on their cheeks turn brighter blue, giving them a beautifully attractive contrast of colours. Certain areas of the males’ bodies become bigger. Canine teeth also grow longer in alpha mandrills. 

Surprisingly, if the alpha is beaten by another male and loses dominance, all these changes are partly lost.

With regard to all that we mentioned about males, females are actually the most important members.

Inside the one horde are multiple families of females and their offspring. Hordes, therefore, are centred around females as they make up the majority of the horde members. That is because females tend to stay in their hordes. But males are more likely to leave when they become adults. They may join other hordes in their search for a fine female to mate with. Other males may prefer to stay in their horde and ascend in the social ranking.

Related females usually maintain strong connections. These strong connections maintain the unity of the horde and provide support during conflicts.

Due to their critical roles, females do have and practise some power in the group. For instance, they can kick out some males from the group if they do not like them very much.

Alphas and dominant mandrills have a higher chance of mating with females. Thanks to their physical strength and high ranking, they succeed in attracting females who apparently like them more than the subordinate or weaker males.

Surprisingly, a subordinate male can get a chance to mate in case it is related to the alpha of the horde. Nepotism also exists in animals!

Mandrills are known to be territorial. That means they choose an area as their home and mark it with their body scents in a way to define its borders. One territory can have a home range of up to 8.6 km².

The alpha mandrills and dominant males usually stay in the centre of the territory, while the weaker mandrills stay at the edges of the territory.

Mandrills defend their home against other attacking mandrills. They use a set of vocalisations to show anger and frighten their enemies. They also show their canine teeth to communicate that they will get in a serious fight if those attackers come any closer.

(2) Golden snub-nosed monkey

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Though many monkey species may actually look similar, the golden snub-nosed monkey is beautifully, extraordinarily quirky.

The golden snub-nosed monkey is an Old World monkey that is native to China, precisely the forests and mountains in Central and Southwest China. Sometimes, this monkey lives at high elevations, up to 3400 m above sea level.

Like the Japanese macaque that lives in a snowy environment, the golden snub-nosed monkey is known to bear somewhat colder temperatures than any other monkey. For instance, in its habitat, the temperature ranges from 22°C in summer to -8.3°C in mid-winter.

There are three subspecies under the golden snub-nosed monkey. Though they look similar, there are several physical differences that tell them apart, including their tail lengths, teeth composition, and fur hues.

The golden snub-nosed monkey has a lifespan of 20 to 26 years.

Unfortunately, this beautiful monkey is listed as endangered by the International Unit of Conversation of Nature. It faces several threats that make the population decrease dramatically, and its reproduction rates cannot compensate.

One of the many threats the golden snub-nosed monkey encounters is deforestation. As humans cut down trees, they reduce food availability and make it hard for the monkey to survive in its original habitat.

Appearance of Golden snub-nosed monkey

The golden snub-nosed monkey looks different at every stage of its life. From birth to death, this monkey goes through five stages: newborn, infant, juvenile, sub-adult, and adult.

Male golden snub-nosed monkeys become adults at the age of seven, while females mature when they are five years old. Sub-adults males and females are 5-7 and 3-4 years old, respectively.

On the other hand, juveniles are 1-3 years old, and infants are aged between three months and one year.

Like the mandrill, the golden snub-nosed monkey is quite beautifully coloured. And like the mandrill again, there are significant differences between males and females.

Both males and females are characterised by a fluffy, thick fur coat that protects them from the cold weather.

The fur exhibits different, bright colours. For instance, the hair is short and bright golden around the face, head, and neck. On the back, shoulders, thighs, and tail, the hair is quite long and a mixture of grey and black, while in females, it is usually brown and black. The hair on the rest of the body is a mixture between pale yellow and black.

In both sexes, the fur is creamy on the chest, and their faces are light blue. They have small ears that are usually hidden in the fur. Their muzzle is white and their nostrils are facing forward.

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Apart from the fur’s unique colours, adult females are smaller than adult males. Females have a body length of 47 to 52 cm and weigh around 9.4 kg. On the other hand, males are usually between 58 and 68 long and weigh 16.4 kg.

Both males and females have long tails of almost the same length, usually ranging between 51 and 72 cm.

Golden snub-nosed monkey: Feeding

Unlike the mandrill that eats both plants and animals, the golden snub-nosed monkey is a total vegetarian. It eats fruit, leaves, seeds, herbs, tree bark, and flowers.

The golden snub-nosed monkey is highly adaptable. One thing that shows that is how different its diet becomes based on where it lives and what time of year it is. For instance, some food like fruit, buds, flowers, and leaves are only available from April to November. So they feed on them during that period. Likewise, they feed on different other things during winter.

Consequently, the weight of the golden snub-nosed monkey changes from one season to another. Whenever food is abundant, it tends to eat more and fatten up. This helps the monkey survive the scarcity of highly-nutritious food during winter.

The golden snub-nosed monkey itself is food for the leopard, the dhole, which is an Asiatic wild dog, the wolf, and the Asiatic golden cat. It may also be attacked by eagles and a kind of hawk called the goshawk.

Golden snub-nosed monkey: Breeding

Males and females become mature and able to start a family, usually at the age of seven and five, respectively. There is no specific time of the year for the snub-nosed monkey to make. But, like the mandrill, mating mostly happens in October.

On average, pregnancy lasts for 6.5 months; then, a female gives birth to one baby. Babies are usually quite weak at birth, and they look super different from their parents. It is also hard to distinguish male infants from female ones.

For instance, the infants’ entire bodies have the same creamy, pale grey colour with a few dark areas here and there. Their faces are pale blue or grey. In two months, the fur gradually turns light brown.

Infants are totally dependent on their mothers, who usually take full care of them. They nurse them, groom them, play with them, and teach them how to move around and leap from one tree branch to another.

Golden snub-nosed monkey: Society

Like every other monkey species, the golden snub-nosed monkey lives in groups that collectively make up the whole community. The basic unit in this community is a group of five and up to 10 members comprising one male, a few females and their offspring. 

These groups are called one-male units (OMUs) or harems. Multiple OMUs can come together to form a larger group.

In the one harem, the male is usually the head of the group and is responsible for securing the females and protecting the young. The females are the wives of the male, and their offspring are his children.

Members of the harem stay close to one another. They tend to move together and forage together. Females like to socialise and form connections with one another. Sometimes, they also connect with females from other harems.

As we mentioned earlier, units can come together to form a larger group which often has up to 30 members. Then these large groups unite again to form a troop whose members can be up to 200. Multiple troops form a massive group called a band. Bands can have up to several hundred members.

When the baby males grow into juveniles and then sub-adults, they may leave their unit to form all-male units of their own. Sometimes these all-male units are joined by old solitary males who have been kicked out of their harems.

Males in these male-only units can be relatives of different ages. So they develop a social structure based on their age. In that regard, the oldest male, usually a sub-adult, has a higher rank than a juvenile.

When males become adults, they mate and form their own one-male/several female units. They are known to mate with several females in one breeding season.

If a female is mating for the first time, she gets to choose from several males who compete to win her heart. When she picks one of them, she officially becomes his wife, carries his babies, and joins his harem.

In the one harem, however, there is competition among the females to attract the male of the harem to pick and mate with them. In this case, the male is the one who gets to choose.

(3) Barbary macaque

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As we have mentioned earlier, 336 species of monkeys live on Earth. These many species are divided into multiple categories called genus. Among the different genus is the macaca.

The macaca genus includes 22 species of monkeys called macaques. Macaques are Old World monkeys. Twenty-one macaque species live in Asia, while only one of them, the Barbary macaques, is endemic to Africa.

In a previous article on, we discussed the Japanese macaque in detail. Now, we are going to learn about its African brother, the Barbary macaque.

Like the Japanese macaque, the Barbary macaque is named after its native habitat.

Barbary is a proper name that refers to the historic North African region that is now Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Barbary macaques are native to this area, more specifically to Algeria and Morocco.

Having said that, thousands of years ago, the population of the Barbary macaques was distributed over the entire Barbary region from Libya to Morocco as well as many parts of Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Hungary, and Germany.

However, the happening of the ice age, in addition to many other catastrophic climate changes that Earth experienced over the course of its lifetime, has eventually limited the Barbary macaque to Algeria and Morocco only, more precisely, in the Atlas Mountains.

Since these mountains are very high—Toubkal, the peak, is located in southwestern Morocco, and it is at 4,164 m above sea level—at different elevations it is usually cold and snowy. These are conditions the Barbary macaque is well adapted to. Only a few species of monkeys can live in such cold weather.

The Barbary macaque can also be found in small numbers, only 250 individuals, in the southernmost peninsula of Gibraltar. Although it is located on the southern Mediterranean coast of Spain, Gibraltar is actually a British overseas territory.

Because it has a tiny tail and sometimes no tail at all, the Barbary macaque is sometimes mistaken for the ape. The tail’s absence and presentence are what sets monkeys and apes apart.

In total, there are 216 monkey species living in Africa. Interestingly, the Barbary macaque is the only African monkey species that lives in the north. The remaining 215 are found in other parts of the continent south of the Sahara desert.

More interestingly, 105 of those 215 are found in Madagascar. This African island country is located in the Indian Ocean, 400 km from mainland Africa.

Barbary macaques have a lifespan of 25 years for males and 30 years for females.

Appearance of Barbary macaque

The Barbary macaque looks a little similar to the Japanese macaque. It is a medium-sized primate whose body is covered with a dense, ginger, greyish brown fur coat. Usually, the chest and underparts have lighter colours.

The fur on the head is dark brown. On the back, it is a mixture of beige and brown. Interestingly the fur colour changes as the Barbary macaque gets older. At some stage of its life, the hair on the head is thick and golden. The eyes are hazel to brown, and the ears disappear under the fur. 

There are distinct differences between male and female Barbary macaques. First of all, they have different sizes. While males weigh 15.25 kg on average and are 63.5 cm in length, females’ mean weight is 10.5 kg and are 56 cm long.

If an individual happens to have a tail, it is no more than 2.2 cm long.

Barbary macaque: Feeding

The Barbary macaque is a diurnal animal. It is most active during the day, where it forages, socialises, takes care of babies, grooms, and plays. But when the sun goes down, it rests and gets ready to sleep.

Like many other monkey species, the Barbary macaque mainly feeds on plants, seeds, flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, tree bark, insects like beetles, butterflies, and ants and reptiles as well as spiders, snails, scorpions, and earthworms.

On the contrary, this beautiful monkey species is hunted by leopards and eagles. Some eagle species that are native to Africa may prey on the monkey’s cubs. Dogs also attack the Barbary macaque.

Barbary macaque: Breeding 

Male Barbary macaques are mature enough to mate and start a family at the age of 4 to 7 years old. On the other hand, females can breed way younger than that, usually when they are between 2.5 and 4 years old.

Mating normally happens once a year, between November and March. A female Barbary macaque stays pregnant for five to six months; then, she gives birth to only one infant. Labour usually happens at night, on top of a tree. Females choose such high places to give birth in as they are safe and far from predators’ reach. Infants are born between May and September.

At birth, Barbary macaque infants are so small, weighing around 600 g only. They have a red face which later pales to pink. Their entire body is also covered with black fur. As they grow older, the fur becomes denser and turns light brown. Due to that very light fur, their ears look so big.

Baby Barbary macaques nurse for one year. During this period, they are only attached to their mothers, who carry them around, first on their stomachs and later on their backs when they get heavier.

By the end of that one-year period, infants start to detach from their mothers, become independent, and eat solid food. 

When they are mature, male Barbary macaques usually leave their troop, while females are more likely to stay within the same troop.

Barbary macaque: Society

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The Barbary macaque is a highly sociable monkey. It lives in groups of at least 10 and as many as 100 individuals. These groups are called troops.

Barbary macaque troops, however, have a different nature than that of most other monkey troops. Though they are mixed, having both male and female members, power over the troop is usually in the hands of females. 

The leader of the troop is usually a female. The rest of the troop members have different social ranks determined based on their relations to the lead female. For instance, females sharing the same blood normally have higher ranks than those who are distant relatives. This kind of relation to the female line is called maternal kinship.

Males, on the other hand, have their own social hierarchy within the troop. Still, they have less power over it.

The male hierarchy system is determined by the physical strength of the males. In the one troop, males were seen to get into fights with one another for no apparent reason other than to show off their strength or increase their fitness.

Sometimes, some related males unite and form a group within the troop. Those groups may split if the ranking of some members is lowered as a result of their defeat in a fight.

How these fights start is another interesting thing. For instance, if a male presents an infant he is caring for to another male who seems to care less for that infant, a conflict may start. Likewise, if a distant macaque tries to approach another male while caring for an infant, the latter adult becomes aggressive.

In many other monkey societies that we discussed in previous articles, males were leading the troops, and the alphas were the ones who mate with many females of their troops. And as every female mates with only one male, usually the alpha or a higher ranking male, every male can easily identify its infants.

When it comes to the Barbary macaque, the reverse is true.

Since females are the most powerful members, they mate with most of the males in the troops during the mating season. This makes it hard for both females and males to know who is the father of their newborns.

As a result, all males care for all the infants in the troop. If a male wants to ensure the newborn is his, he has to stop the female from mating with other males. This makes him spend most of his time around her, watching her, and getting into fights with other males to keep them away from her. Sometimes, these fights may result in injuries.

So all Barbary macaque males in the troop care for all the infants within their troop. They spend hours of their day with them, grooming, playing with, and carrying them on their backs when they move around. 

This is quite unique for a monkey species, at least compared to other species where males’ care for infants is limited to some interactions and a very little playtime.

In fact, it is not just males in the troop that care for the infants, but females, too, contribute to that. It is like the entire troop members share the responsibility for bringing up the young. That said, not all females have the same access to infants.

While there is usually no problem with all males caring for the young, females strongly related to the leader, meaning they have a high social ranking within the troop, can easily access the infants. Meanwhile, females with lower ranks are less likely to interact with them.

Barbary macaque: Behaviour

As we have just seen, Barbary macaques of the same troop develop strong social connections with other members by caring for the young. There are other behaviours that Barbary macaques display which make them even more distinct primates.

For instance, grooming. Barbary macaques develop stronger social connections with other troop members by grooming them. However, this practice is both beneficial and annoying.

It is beneficial for the monkey that is doing the grooming as it reduces its stress levels dramatically. On the other hand, it has no effect on the stress level of the monkey that is receiving the grooming. Even more than that, grooming can be annoying as it stops the monkey being groomed from looking for food or playing with other monkeys.

Secondly, there is vocalisation. Barbary macaques use different vocalised calls to communicate with their troop members. Sometimes, these calls can be alarming to warn the troop against a potential predator attack. Other times, the calls can be coming from infants to their mothers. 

Interestingly, every Barbary macaque has a unique, recognisable voice. For instance, a member in one troop can distinguish if a call is made by a member of its troop or an outsider. Likewise, mothers can determine whether an infant is theirs or not based on the latter’s call. 

Last but not least, a Barbary macaque with an open mouth most likely communicates he/she is happy. Barbary macaques smile by chattering their teeth, despite this gesture making them look a little scary.

Barbary macaque: Threats

The Barbary macaque has been listed as endangered ever since 2008. Endangered means the poor Barbary macaque is potentially at risk of going extinct if no proper conservation efforts are made to keep it alive and increase its reproduction rate.

The Barbary macaque numbers have declined dramatically due to a set of threats, including habitat loss. This happens by cutting down trees and reducing the areas where the Barbary macaques live and forage.

Furthermore, Barbary macaques are hunted, caught, and then sold as pets. Farmers also kill these monkeys when they damage their crops.

(4) Cotton-top tamarin

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Well, this is a monkey that does not really look like a monkey.

Unlike the three monkey species we have demonstrated so far, the cotton-top tamarin is a New World monkey species. It is native to Colombia in South America where the population is found in the forests of the northwest regions of the country.

Numbers of cotton-top tamarins are also found in Panama. Panama is a small country that connects Central America to South America and separates the Pacific Ocean to the west from the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

Like the macaca, there is a group of South American monkey species called tamarin. There are a total of 22 tamarin species, including the cotton-top tamarin. They are characterised by being completely different-looking from most monkeys. They are also quite rare, and their population is limited to South America.

The name cotton-top tamarin comes from the monkey’s long white hair on the head and its white mantle.

Many people say the cotton-top tamarin hair reminds them of the great German scientist Albert Einstein. Well, I do not find them completely mistaken except for one thing: the tamarin’s hair is straight and not wavy like Einstein’s!

That said, the Germans themselves call this monkey Liszt (or Lisztaffe in German) because its hair looks like that of the 19th-century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt!

Despite its incredibly small size, when the cotton-top tamarin is kept in captivity, such as in zoos and conserves, it can live up to 24 years. However, in the wild, this monkey mostly dies at the age of 13, which is still a long life compared to other same-sized animals like squirrels. Squirrels live only 7.5 years on average in the wild.

Such a big gap between the cotton-top tamarin’s lifespan in captivity and in the wild is explained by the huge threats it encounters.

Sadly, the cotton-top tamarin is critically endangered. Its numbers are declining drastically due to habitat loss and man-made disturbance. The International Unit for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there are only about 2000 adults now alive in the wild, with 4000 infants and sub-adults.

Appearance of Cotton-top tamarin

As we have mentioned, the cotton-top tamarin looks incredibly different and is ridiculously small. In contrast with the three monkey species we presented earlier, male and female cotton-top tamarins are no different, not in looks nor in size.                                                                                 

The cotton-top tamarin weighs between 400 and 560 g. It has a body length of only 21 to 26 cm, excluding the tail. The tail, on the other hand, is longer than the monkey’s entire body. It typically ranges between 33 and 41 cm. That is around the size of a squirrel.

Besides the size, the cotton-top tamarin has unique, white, soft, dense, straight hair running from the forehead and behind the ears and covering the entire back of the head. This hair is long and flows over the shoulders.

The monkey also has relatively big ears, wide, dark brown eyes, and a long piggy muzzle. The face is entirely covered with a mix of black and white, incredibly fine and short hairs.

Interestingly, when the cotton-top tamarin is either excited or frightened, the hair on its head stands upright, making the animal look bigger than it actually is.

The rest of the cotton-tamarin body is covered with a soft, dense fur coat that is greyish, orange-brown on the back and creamy-white on the chest, stomach, and underparts. The animal’s long tail is also orange-brown.

That said, the cotton-top tamarin’s palms, feet, and eyelids are naked. Like cats, cotton-top tamarins have whiskers around their mouth as well as on the forehead. But unlike cats, those tamarins have their lower canine teeth longer than their front teeth. 

The cotton-top tamarin also has long, sharp fingers and toenails that look more like claws. Its big toes, however, have flat nails.

Cotton-top tamarin: Feeding

The cotton-top tamarin feeds on both plants and insects. It prefers fruit in particular and eats several plant extracts such as gum and a sugar-rich liquid called nectar that flowers usually produce. This species also likes to eat small seeds and may sometimes prey on small reptiles.

Described as diurnal, the cotton-top tamarin is an early riser. It wakes up a little after dawn. It likes to forage during the day and sleep at night.

The cotton-top tamarin also has predators. Because of its small size, it is preyed on by predatory birds such as hawks as well as big cats, snakes, and other animals such as otters, weasels, and martens.

That said, these tamarins avoid predators by spending the majority of their day in trees, whether still, clinging, or swinging from one branch to another. They are even highly cautious that they do not go down to drink water and mainly depend on fruit for hydration.

Cotton-top tamarin: Society

Like the other monkeys, the cotton-top tamarins are a highly sociable species. However, their social structure is quite distinct.

First of all, male and female cotton-top tamarins are mature enough to mate at the age of 15 months to 2 years. Couples tend to stay together for years on end. When a couple first mate, they form their own social group, of which they are the dominant pair. The other members of the group are usually their offspring and other individuals that may join the group. The maximum group size is usually 13.

Apart from the dominant pair, the rest of the group members have ranks determined by their age. So the oldest offspring is usually the highest-ranking and vice versa.

The cotton-top tamarin is a territorial monkey. That means every dominant pair defines a certain area as their home to which no strangers are allowed. The tamarin’s territory usually ranges between 0.07 and 0.1 km². To identify their territory, cotton-top tamarins use scents produced by their bodies to mark the borders. 

Interestingly, the dominant pair is the only couple that is allowed to breed within the group. And the leading female seems to be a little more powerful than the male. Since she takes over the breeding rights, she stops other females within her group, who may potentially be her daughters, from getting married.

How the leading female does that is as eccentric as it is magical. She releases a chemical from her body called pheromones. Pheromones is known to affect the behaviour of the animals that smell it. 

So when other females in the group smell pheromones, they become unable to breed. Sometimes, the dominant female may initiate fights with other females in the group and actually kick them out to prevent them from breeding with the males within the same group.

If the leading female/mother dies or decides to leave her group for some reason, though this is rare, the oldest daughter takes over her place and becomes the new dominant female. 

Other females in the group that are not allowed to breed can, in fact, be released from the unjust suppression made by their mother. This happens when a male outsider enters the group and mates with them.

In such a case, a pregnant female may leave her familial group to join her new husband and form their own group. Likewise, females that were kicked out of the group find other roaming males, marry them, and start their own groups with them.

Cotton-top tamarin: Breeding

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Mating usually happens during the first half of the year, from January to June. A female stays pregnant for 4.5 months. Then she often gives birth to identical twins. This is another distinct feature that this monkey species possess over the many other monkeys whose litter size is typically a single infant.

At birth, infants are completely helpless. They cannot walk and have little to no hair. 

Two infants at a time is such a big responsibility for a pair, so the entire group of the cotton-top tamarin shares his responsibility.

All the previous offspring and even unrelated individuals care for the young. They feed them, groom them, carry them around, play with them, and protect them.

Parents also put so much effort into caring for their newly born twins. Surprisingly, fathers seem to care more than mothers. Yet, ironically, the young are more attached to their mothers, most probably because of nursing.

Since males are evident to invest more than females in caring for the young, they seem to pay the price for that. For instance, the physical effort they spend makes them lose weight. They are also left with little free time to forage.

On the other hand, females, who have more freedom foraging while males carry the young around, tend to eat a lot and gain weight.

This dedicated care to the infants secures them against dangers until they become independent. On a much larger scale, this should contribute to the monkey numbers being stable, if not increasing. But thanks to the threats which the cotton-top tamarin faces, this monkey has become critically endangered.

Around three weeks after birth, infants can walk and move on their own. As they start to develop hair, the fur on the back is usually black at first. But it gradually turns orange-brown the older infants get.

Cotton-top tamarin: Communication

Cotton-top tamarins have a complicated way of communicating with one another. They produce a beautifully unique set of 38 vocalisations, each specifying a different message. Researchers who spent a long time recording and analysing these sounds do believe they resemble a language that even has grammatical rules!

These different sounds can be easily produced by adult cotton-top tamarins. However, the young need a relatively long time to be able to do so. In spite of that, it seems like they, the young, are able to understand what adults ‘say’ before they are able to say it themselves. 

Cotton-top tamarins use some sounds as alarm calls. When they see a predator approaching or a stranger getting near their territory, they produce a special sound to warn the rest of their group members to take cover or run away.

They also produce different sounds when they find food, especially the types of food they like the most. When the group members receive these calls, they reply with a similar call to say that they got the message.

This is something like ‘copy that’, which police officers use to confirm they received and understood the message.

Cotton-top tamarin: Threats

As we just mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the cotton-top tamarin is critically endangered as the species faces huge threats. On top of these threats is habitat loss caused by humans.

Humans cut down trees in order to use the land for growing crops and building hydroelectric power plants to produce electricity. Trees are also cut to use their wood for building homes and making furniture. This leaves the poor monkey with limited areas to live and forage in.

Another threat that cotton-top tamarins are encountering is illegal hunting. Since they are very small-sized as well as peaceful, humans catch them to sell them as pets.

Those monkeys are also caught to use in scientific research. For instance, up to 30,000 cotton-top tamarin monkeys were exported from Colombia to the US to use as models for studying some diseases such as colon cancer.

Though such a practice may have resulted in understanding and finding cures for these diseases, it has caused a drastic decline in the population of the cotton-top tamarin. This eventually got the monkey to be critically endangered.

Furthermore, the disappearance of cotton-top tamarins can disturb the ecosystem in northwest Colombia. As these monkeys feed on a variety of fruit, they actually help grow more fruit trees in different places. Here is how this happens.

Cotton-top tamarin eat fruit. They carry the fruit seeds within their bodies. These seeds do not get digested. So when the tamarins move around and leave their waste matter, known as faeces, elsewhere, they leave these seeds there and help grow more and more trees in other places.

If those monkeys disappear all of a sudden, the growth rate of trees in that region will decline dramatically. This will affect the environment pretty badly.

(5) Emperor tamarin

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The emperor tamarin is another Souther American New World monkey species belonging to the tamarins. And it looks exceptionally attractive.

Like the emperor penguin that was named so to honour the German naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster who discovered it, the emperor tamarin was named so because it looks like the German emperor Wilhelm II who ruled Germany for 30 years from 1888 to 1918. 

Both the emperor tamarin and Wilhelm II have similar moustaches. The only difference between them is that the monkey’s moustache is going downward while Wilhelm II’s is pointing upward.

Anyways, the emperor tamarin is found in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. 

The emperor tamarin has two subspecies: the chinned emperor tamarin and the bearded emperor tamarin. Both subspecies look somehow the same. Yet, they have differently coloured furs. The bearded emperor tamarin is also distinguished by a beard which the chinned emperor tamarin lacks.

Apart from that, there do not seem to be any other differences between the two subspecies. Both have the same body structure, size, and behaviour. 

Despite the data reporting that the emperor tamarin population is declining, the monkey does not really face any major threats like the monkeys we discussed earlier. Consequently, the emperor tamarin is listed as least concern by the IUCN.

That said, emperor tamarins are hunted for the illegal pet trade. 

Appearance of Emperor tamarin

Mainly, there is no difference between male and female emperor tamarins, to the point of difficulty telling them apart.

This tamarin monkey is as small as the cotton-top tamarin we displayed earlier. Its tiny body is only 26 cm in length and has a tail extending between 35 and 42 cm. An adult emperor tamarin weighs around 500 g. Due to its small size, the emperor tamarin is sometimes called the dwarf monkey.

The entire body is covered with a dense, greyish brown fur coat that is black on some parts. The long tail, however, is thin and covered with thick, fluffy orange-brown hairs. 

The monkey’s face is small and black, and the eyes are wide and brown. The ears are small, and the forehead is covered with greyish, mostly white hair. The nose and mouth are pink. The emperor tamarin also has a long tongue that, when stuck out, makes it look like it is teasing someone. But, in fact, this behaviour mostly indicates displeasure. 

Another thing that is unique about this monkey is the long, white moustache extending down past the shoulders, making it look like an old Chinese master. The long moustache is also quite disproportionate to the monkey’s tiny body.

The emperor tamarin has claws on all of its fingers and toes except for the big toes. They have nails instead. These claws help the monkey cling to tree branches in a vertical position as well as leap and swing. Claws also help the monkey grab food from inside tree trunks.

Emperor tamarin: Feeding

Speaking of its diet, the emperor tamarin feeds on, yes again, fruits and flowers. It also catches insects and eats frogs, lizards, and small birds. These dietary choices change based on what is available in the monkey’s habitat.

Interestingly, emperor tamarins have been observed foraging in troops not only with emperor tamarins like them but also with other monkey species called the Weddell’s saddleback tamarins and the Goeldi’s marmosets.

The foraging troop goes on expeditions to find food, and they are usually led by the dominant female. It is said that females are better hunters than males and are able to locate fruit easily. That is because females possess a better sense of vision than males.

While most males only see green and blue. The majority of females see in full colour.

So multiple-species troops gather in the morning. They travel together looking for food, eating, playing, grooming, and resting during the day. Then, when the sun goes down, the troop members split, and every species goes back home to sleep.

That said, the emperor tamarin faces threats from a number of predators that include snakes, predatory birds, wild cats, and domestic dogs

Emperor tamarin: Breeding 

Emperor tamarins can mate between the age of 16 and 20 months. A female stays pregnant for six months; then, she typically gives birth to twins. Sometimes, a single infant or even triplets are born.

Birth usually happens between September and March. This is the wet season in the emperor tamarin habitat, and it is characterised by food abundance. 

Infants usually nurse for 30 minutes every three hours. In between these nursing intervals, males carry the infants on their backs and care for them. This gives the mothers a chance to rest and feed. Infants nurse for three months, and then they start feeding on solid food.

Unlike the cotton-top tamarin couples who stay together for life, the dominant female emperor tamarin mates with several males at a time. As we have seen before, this results in each of the males she mated with thinking the newborn tamarin is his infant. 

Consequently, all males contribute to caring for infants. This ensures their survival.

So they feed them, protect them, and carry them around on their backs. The latter is an energy-consuming activity as growing infants tend to get heavier fast.

As a result, males start to lose weight due to such harsh physical activity. As they spend most of their time around infants to watch them closely, even more than their own mothers, males are left with very little time to forage. This makes them lose even more weight.

If an infant is in trouble and releases a distress call, males usually respond faster than females.

In spite of all the protection provided by the multiple likely fathers, infants are still prone to death once they get strong enough and try to move. Such unstable movement can potentially cause them to fall off trees and die.

Yet, if they are meant to survive, the emperor tamarin can live for 10 to 20 years in the wild. When kept captive, it can potentially live longer than that.

Emperor tamarin: Society

Like all the monkey species we demonstrated earlier, the emperor tamarin is highly sociable. It lives in groups led by a dominant pair where the female seems to have more power over the male as well as the group. These groups are called troops. 

Usually, the troop size ranges between two newly married monkeys and up to 20 individuals. The other members of the troop are the offspring and other migrating tamarins.

As we have mentioned, when a single infant or twins are born, all the males in the group take care of them. So they develop strong bonds with them. Troop members also become more closely related as they forage, eat, and play together. Grooming other troop members is also an activity that emperor tamarins use to deepen their intra-troop relations. 

When the offspring grow into adults, whether they are males or females, they may leave their maternal troop to mate and start their own troops.

Emperor tamarin: Communication 

Emperor tamarins communicate with one another using a unique set of vocalisations that deliver certain messages. They can also use these sounds to communicate with monkeys of other species with whom they forage or to warn strangers and intruders from coming closer to their territory. 

Interestingly, emperor tamarins are able to distinguish between the calls of their troop members and those from other monkey species with whom they forage. Calls from the same troop can be used to wake the troop members up and encourage them to gather and go foraging.

Emperor tamarins also use other calls during their foraging expeditions to help locate each other if they happen to disperse over a wide area. Such locating calls can travel more than 150 m.

Besides vocalisation, emperor tamarins also use a set of unique physical gestures to display different behaviours. For instance, they stick their long tongue out of their mouth to show irritation. On the other hand, a female may do the same tongue-sticking gesture as to ask for help from a male who also looks after her infant. 

Like the cotton-top tamarin, the emperor tamarin produces scents to determine the borders of its territories. When other tamarins smell these scents, they must keep their distance. 

(6) Red-shanked douc

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The last monkey species we are discussing in this article is the strikingly good-looking red-shanked douc. This is an Old World monkey species that is endemic to Asia, more precisely to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The red-shanked douc is characterised by displaying different bright colours on its different body parts, making it the most colourful monkey there is. These beautiful colours have earned the monkey the nickname ‘queen of primates’.

There is a long tail that the monkey uses to stay balanced while moving around. It also helps it jump higher.

Like the macaca and the tamarins, the red-shanked douc is another species of the douc genus. There are two other species that belong to that genus: the black-shanked douc and the grey-shanked douc. I guess you already know the difference between the three species, do you not?

The red-shanked douc is facing threats that are causing its population to decline dramatically. Such threats include habitat loss and hunting for the illegal pet trade. As a result, this douc species was listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Appearance of Red-shanked douc

There are key differences between male and female red-shanked doucs when it comes to size. Males are larger than females. That said, this monkey is, in general, ‘long’. 

Males have a body length ranging between 55 and 82 cm, while females are 63 cm long at maximum. Box sexes also have quite long tails that measure 56 to 74 cm in males and 44 to 60 cm in females.

In addition, males are heavier than females, weighing 10 kg on average, whereas females’ mean weight is 8.5 kg.

Aside from the size, male and female red-shanked doucs are barely distinguishable.

Their entire body is covered with a dense fur coat that displays different colours on different body parts. For instance, the fur on the back, belly, and head crown is pale grey. The shoulders, thighs, hands, and feet are black. The forearms, as well as the tail, are white, and the legs and chest are orange-brown.

The face, on the other hand, has different hues that range from light orange on the wrinkled forehead, creamy on the cheeks and white on the muzzle. This beautiful monkey male also has a white beard that grows to 12 cm.

Red-shanked douc: Feeding

Red-shanked doucs are strict vegetarians specialising in eating leaves. They feed on small leaves, which make the most part of their diet. In addition, they eat fruit, flowers, bamboo, and seeds. Interestingly, these monkeys were seen to consume fruit mostly in the morning so as to give them the energy to go through the day.

Red-shanked doucs are not selfish when it comes to food. They do not really fight over it. They were even seen sharing their food with their fellow doucs.

Surprisingly, red-shanked doucs do not have any natural predators. In other words, no other animals hunt and kill them. This might give the impression that red-shanked doucs face no threats, but that is not true. Their main threat, which has caused them to be critically endangered, is us, humans!

Red-shanked douc: Breeding

Male and female red-shanked doucs are able to mate at the age of four to five years and four years, respectively. These monkeys can marry at any time of the year. But, for some reason, mating peaks between late summer and early winter, from August to December.

A female stays pregnant for 165 days and a maximum of 210 days. Then she gives birth to only one infant. On rare occasions, females may have twins. When in the wild, females usually give birth on high trees, which they believe are safe.

Infants are born quite small, but their bodies are covered with distinct, colourful fur. The only difference is that the body colours are quite pale while the face is dark blue. As the infant grows to a juvenile, the colours change. The fur on the different body parts gets dark while the dark blue face fades.

Mothers are mostly responsible for their infants. They nurse them, groom them, carry them to the back and play with them. But mothers also receive help from other females in their group who contribute to caring for the infants.

Red-shanked douc: Society

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Like all other monkeys, the red-shanked douc lives in groups. But it is the group structure and composition that is different. 

Scientists and researchers have found out that red-shanked doucs live in multi-level societies. The basic unit of this society is called, well, a unit. A unit consists of one male and a few females and offspring. There are around seven individuals per unit.

Usually, the male is the most dominant character in the unit. The remaining members, the females, have different ranks, mostly depending on how strong their relations with the male are. When the offspring grow into adults, they leave their natal unit and join another. Males establish their own units when they mate for the first time.

Members of the same unit develop strong bonds with one another. As we have seen earlier, they share food with one another and help care for the young. 

Then, units come together to form bands. A band can have up to three units, making up a total of 18 monkeys. Sometimes, bands can have up to 50 individuals.

Interestingly, these band members usually join each other during the night when they rest and sleep. In the morning, they separate, and each unit forages independently.


And so we come to the end of today’s long lesson.

In this article, we learned a lot of general and specific information about monkeys, starting from their division into Old World and New World monkeys to studying six different unique species in detail.

Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia, while New World monkeys are endemic to North and South Americas. We can also tell these monkeys apart by their noses. If the nose is facing downward, it is an Old World monkey. If the nose is flat and facing outward, the monkey is a New World one.

Out of the six species we studied today, four are Old World monkeys, three of which are Asians, and one is an African native monkey. The remaining two are South American New World monkeys. 

One common thing among all those monkey species is their beautiful colours. The mandrill, for insurance, is characterised by its blue cheeks and long red nose. The golden snub-nosed monkey has a bright orange head and a light blue face. The Barbary macaque is light brown, the cotton-top tamarin has beautiful long, white Einstein hair, the emperor tamarin has a long white moustache, and the red-shanked douc displays a beautifully coloured full body.

Besides the colours, all these monkey species are highly sociable. They all live in groups called troops, comprising both males and females. Troops of some species are male-led, while others are dominated by couples.

Fathers from all species contribute with different degrees to caring for the young. In some species, like the mandrill, fathers only play with their infants. In other species, such as the Barbary macaque and the cotton-top tamarin, males feed, groom, carry, and protect the young.

That said, there are many differences among these six monkey species. One of them is the mating style. For instance, the golden-snub nosed males mate with more than one female throughout the season.

On the other hand, it is the female Barbary macaque that mates with several males. Such a mating approach is thought by biologists to be a survival mechanism. Since all the males a female mated with will think the newborn is theirs, all of them will contribute to caring for it. They protect it from dangers and therefore allow it to survive.

All species use unique vocalisations to communicate with their fellow troop members. Such vocalisations are used, for instance, to wake the troop up to go forage, to call the rest of the troop members if food has been found, to warn them if a predator is approaching them, and to threaten intruders with harsh consequences if they invade their scent-identified territories.

Aside from the emperor tamarin, the remaining five species of monkeys are either endangered or critically endangered because of human activity. This is mostly represented by deforestation, poaching, and pet-trade hunting. And unless serious conservation efforts are made to protect these species, they can potentially go extinct and completely disappear from the face of the Earth.

We hope you found this adventure in the monkey world entertaining. Tell us in the comments which monkey species you found the most interesting and whether or not you have seen any of these seven monkeys in real life.

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