There are 260 known monkey species in the world. All of them are distinguished by their dry noses, and they tend to be tree-dwelling creatures (although some species live on the ground as well). We usually divide these species into New World (American) and Old World (generally in Africa and Asia).
You’ll probably have encountered some of the most famous varieties like baboons, macaques, howler monkeys and marmosets, but there are plenty of lesser known critters to get to know as well.
Monkeys also range dramatically in size, from tiny pygmy marmosets (about 85 grams), to massive mandrills (over 35 kg), but they have some things in common.
For one thing, monkeys are complex communicators. They use a wide variety of facial expressions and gestures to signal aggression and contentment, to tell members of their group where they are (as they sometimes get lost), and to sound the alarm.
Sometimes this alarm can be incredibly loud. The cry of howler monkeys can be heard across two miles of forest. Their communication methods can also be very intricate. Squirrel monkeys have a repertoire of 20 different “vocalizations” (or words in human terms).
Many species are also skilled tool users. Capuchins can smash nuts with stone tools, rub the hairs off caterpillars and “fish” for insects in hollows with sticks. Macaques use stones to crack open shellfish.
And, did you know that monkeys are major music fans as well? Scientists have found that Tamarin monkeys respond well to “music” made up of the sounds of happy monkeys, and that the sounds of agitated monkeys make them fearful and suspicious.
Musicologists have experimented with different forms of human music, shifting them up and down octaves and varying the rhythm. According to them, heavy metal bands like Metallica are a big favorite among monkey music fans, and that listening to their brand of rock actually calms them down.
It’s not what you might expect Master of Puppets to achieve, but it seems to indicate that monkeys really do have a musical ear.
The more we learn about monkeys, the more they start to resemble us. Far from primitive, dumb animals, we are coming to see them as sophisticated, intelligent creatures with complex cultures and personalities. So, be sure to think twice next time you call someone a “baboon.”
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