Is an Orangutan a Monkey?
Most of us can remember asking a teacher or parent the ever-puzzling question: is an orangutan a monkey? They look like monkeys, but are these intelligent and adorable creatures actually part of the monkey family? Technically, the answer is no. The orangutan is part of the hominid family, or the Great Apes. While this may not mean much to you now, we are going to take a look at the characteristics and lifestyle habits that separate the hominids from monkeys. Once you understand these differences, you will be able to pass on the information anytime someone asks you: is an orangutan a monkey?
If you haven’t already guessed, the hominid family is shared by humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Unfortunately, humans are the only species of the four that are not endangered. The skeletal structure of our “cousins” bears a striking resemblance to our own, although there are some severe differences. These differences are the reason why we humans were able to excel to the top of the food chain.
Great apes are, like humans, fairly sociable for the most part. There are some slight differences, but most of the apes live in some kind of structured unit. For instance, gorillas live in small family units with one male leader. Chimpanzees live in large groups but do not usually stick to one mating partner. Orangutans are the oddity of the group, as they spend most of their lives alone, except for mating. The mother will raise her children for about seven years before they part ways. Apes are highly intelligent and believed to be second only to the human’s capacity for thought. Apes, like monkeys, are flexible and can navigate through trees fairly well, but one of the most noticeable difference in the physique of a great ape and a monkey is that great apes do not possess tails. Apes are also much larger than monkeys and possess broader backs and very long arms.
To make this simple, any primate that is not a lemur, tarsier, or ape, falls into the monkey category. Not surprisingly, the number of species that this group includes is over 200. Some examples are baboons, capuchins, and macaques. Monkeys tend to spend most of their lives in the trees, using their tails to propel themselves and grab onto branches. This is quite different from apes, who use their arms to swing among the branches; but because apes do not possess tails, they have adapted to life on the ground. Where apes are broad, monkeys have very narrow but long torsos. Monkeys’ arms are also either the same length as their legs or shorter, which is very different to the hulking, long-armed frame of an ape. And where apes have a good range of motion when it comes to the shoulder joint, monkeys do not which is why monkeys cannot swing from the trees using their arms. Their overall strength pales in comparison to that of an ape’s, however they are extremely agile. While monkeys are thought of as being fairly smart, their intelligence is pretty basic compared to that of great apes and humans.
Both monkeys and apes do share a love of fruit, although the details of their diets differ from species to species. Some will also eat bugs, plants, and smaller invertebrates. Both monkeys and apes are found in Africa and Asia, however some species of monkey are also found in South America, where apes do not reside.
So, is an orangutan a monkey? –Definitely not. In spite of their similarities, orangutans are just too close to humans to be included in the monkey category.