Types of Monkeys

The types of monkeys, (Primate order) that inhabit the fields and forests of Africa, Asia and Central and South America, often get split into two groups or suborders, based primarily on the physical characteristic of brain size to body size ratio.

  • Haplorrhini: the tarsiers, great apes and monkeys
  • Strepsirrhini: non-tarsier prosimians

Strepsirrhini consist of one hundred and twenty species in seven separate families. Most, not all, Strepsirrhini species are lemurs, and most, not all Strepsirrhini species are indigenous to Madagascar. Species from two Strepsirrhini families, Galagidae and Lorisida, inhabit Africa and Asia.

While Haplorrhini encompasses both new world and old world monkey species, it also includes other well known families, including Hominidae, the taxonomic home of Homo sapiens.

The terms old world monkeys refers to the approximately one hundred and twenty five species of Africa and Asia, and the term new world monkeys refers to the approximately one hundred and thirty five species of Central and South America.

Together, the old world and new world monkeys account for approximately two-thirds of the global primate species.

Physical and behavioral differences between the old world and new world monkeys, already thoroughly documented, start by noting tail feature, with old world monkeys lacking prehensile tails and possessing opposable thumbs.

  • Cercopithecidae (Old World Monkeys): One hundred and twenty two species divides into twenty two genera.
  • Hominidae (Great Apes): Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans
  • Hylobatidae (gibbons and siamang):
  • Family Tarsiidae: Eight species native to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Two South American species.

Platyrrhini (New World monkeys, some have prehensile tails)

  • Family Aotidae (eleven night monkey species)
  • Family Atelidae: twenty eight howler, spider and woolly monkeys.
  • Family Cebidae: seventeen capuchin, and squirrel monkeys
  • Family Pitheciidae: forty three species of titi monkeys, sakis, and uakaris.
  • Family Callitrichidae: forty two species of Marmosets and Tamarins

Primate behavior studies adopt a general model applicable across the primate world in order to compare behaviors.

Research on the Callitrichidae monkeys, the marmosets and tamarins, inhabit the forests and fields of South America, expresses that point.

Callitrichines provides one of the most recent Callitrichidae literature reviews, including the Marmosets. The author notes a lack of extensive field studies on most group species.

Technically, the family currently breaks down into seven genera, four of which are marmosets, although the majority of marmoset species belong to either the Callithrix or Mico genera:

  • Callibella: one species,
  • Callithrix: Atlantic marmosets
  • Cebuella: one species, the world's smallest monkey the pygmy marmoset
  • Mico: Amazonian marmosets (some taxonomists suggest that Cebuells or the pygmy Amazonian marmosets be placed in a separate genera)
Marmoset behavioral studies tend to reveal some common group traits, including a sweet tooth for tree sap (gum) and fruits.

The high number of marmoset species precludes a definitive group social structure. A broad brush approach to marmoset society paints them as a gregarious, with many species cooperatively raising their young.

The top picture shows a Common Marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) one of the most wide spread of all marmoset species and a resident of Brazil's coastal Atlantic forests.

Lack of comprehensive marmoset research currently translates into inadequate population estimates. The IUCN currently lists one species, the Buffy-headed Marmoset (Callithrix flaviceps) as endangered.

The related Tamarins divide into two genera.

  • genus Leontopithecus - the Lion Tamarins
  • genus Saguinus - Tamarins

Lion Tamarins inhabit Brazil's coastal forests. Saguins Tamarins inhabit a range of South American forests.

Like the Marmosets, they are small (average height less than a foot) monkeys with claws on their fingers and toes and tails usually longer than their bodies. The Lion Tamarins are so named because their facial hair pattern resembles the facial hair pattern of male lions.

Their diet consists of insects, plants and fruits. Again, like the Marmosets, they consume some tree sap (gum) although they lack the Marmoset incisors to help them actively extract it from trees.

Along with spider monkeys, Lion Tamarins rank among the most endangered of the New World Monkeys. The IUCN lists all four Lion Tamarin species as endangered. Captive breeding programs for reintroduction to the wild, are ongoing.

The fifteen Leontopithecus species fare a little better in the wild than the Lion Tamarins, with only three listed as endangered.

© 2010-2012 Patricia A. Michaels