Primates Primates

Scientific Classification

Common Name
13 extant families
Genus Species
233 extant species

Fast Facts

Long arms with opposable thumbs; body hair over most of body; shortened nose (rostrum); forward-looking eyes; opposable first digits on forelimbs and hind limbs
Varies according to species
The smallest living primate is the pygmy mouse lemur, which weighs approximately 30 g (1.05 lbs.). The largest is the gorilla, which weighs on average of about 175 kg (385 lbs.)
Some species eat leaves or fruit; others are insectivorous or carnivorous; certain species are omnivorous
Varies according to species
Sexual Maturity
Varies according to species
Life Span
Varies according to species
Varies according to species
Most dwell in tropical forests
Global: Unknown
IUCN: Certain species are listed
CITES: All primates are at least Appendix II
USFWS: Certain species are listed

Fun Facts

  1. Baboons have complex social structures with anywhere from 8 to 200 individuals per troop. They use at least 10 different vocalizations to communicate. When traveling as a group, males will lead; females and young stay safe in the middle and less dominant males bring up the rear. Young chimps learn to create tools from objects in their environment by watching others; they use sticks to extract termites to eat and crumple leaves to soak up water to drink.
  2. Just like people, mother chimpanzees often develop lifelong relationships with their offspring.
  3. Lemurs get their name from the Ancient Roman belief that they were ghosts or spirits. They were mistaken for specters because of their nocturnal, stealth habits.
  4. Lemurs rely on their sense of smell as a way of communicating with other animals. They have special scent glands on their wrists and bottoms that leave scent trails on branches to mark their territories.
  5. The intimidating chest-beating charge of a male gorilla is usually a bluff to scare off intruders while the rest of his band disappears into the forest. However, it is also used in play as well.
  6. Wild gorillas are difficult to study because they are shy, secretive inhabitants of densely vegetated tropical forests.
  7. "Marmoset" is derived from the French "marmouset" which means, loosely, shrimp or dwarf. An apt name, considering they are the smallest of the true monkeys (the lightest of the true monkeys is the pygmy marmoset).
  8. These monkeys use their specialized claws to establish a firm grip on tree trunks and gnaw little holes in the bark with their lower incisors and canines. This causes the tree to produce more sap, which is used to seal injuries to the bark. This tree sap is a valuable source of carbohydrates and minerals.
  9. By following wild chimps through the forests, scientists discovered that chimps use medicinal plants to treat themselves for illness and injury. Scientists have isolated an anti-tumor agent in one such plant.
  10. The spider monkey's prehensile tail acts as an extra limb. The tail has a hairless patch on the tip that is used for grip. This hairless patch is unique in its markings, just like the human fingerprint.
  11. A female spider monkey's clitoris is very protuberant and can be mistaken for a penis. It acts as a reservoir for urine. The male is able to smell when a female is in estrus.
  12. The Old World monkeys of the subfamily Colobinae have a specially adapted stomach that is sacculated and supports bacterial colonies. These bacteria make it possible for digestion of cellulose in their diet of leaves, unripe fruit, and seeds.
  13. The differences between monkeys and apes are easy to see once you know what to look for. Apes do not have a tail and are generally larger than most other primates. They have a more upright body posture as well. Apes rely more on vision than on smell and have a short broad nose rather than a snout, as Old World monkeys do. Apes have a larger brain relative to the body size than other primates do.
  14. Old World monkeys are generally from Africa and Asia while New World monkeys are from the Americas. In Old World monkeys, the nostrils face downward and are narrow. New World monkeys have round nostrils facing to the side. Old World primates are usually larger than New World's. Many of the Old World monkeys are partly terrestrial.

Ecology and Conservation

Many primates struggle from the bushmeat trade, logging, and habitat destruction. In Africa, forest is often referred to as 'the bush', thus wildlife and the meat derived from it is referred to as 'bushmeat'. This term applies to all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered, used for meat. Unfortunately, nearly all African primates fall victim to the trade.

Busch Gardens is proud of its long-standing relationship with the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., the site of some of the most well-respected primate research programs in the world. Busch Gardens has partnered with the Yerkes Center on several primate conservation research programs including the Tana River Primate Research Center in Southeast Kenya and in-park behavioral research carried out by Frans de Waal, Ph.D. and his staff at the Yerkes Center.


Ghiglieri, Michael P. East of the Mountains of the Moon. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Goodall, Jane. In the Shadow of Man. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1971.

Nowak, Ronald M. (ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. I. Baltimore: Johns-Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Parker, Sybil P. (ed.). Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. II. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990.