The words ‘monkey’ and ‘ape’ may be used interchangeably in daily life. But if you ask our Bali Safari Park Rangers, they will tell you that monkeys and apes are different. How can they tell whether a macaque is a monkey, a gibbon is an ape, a lemur is neither a monkey nor an ape, or if a chimpanzee is a monkey? Fortunately, you can learn to sharpen your observation skills and look for 5 hints to help you figure out whether a primate is a monkey or an ape.
Most monkeys have tails, while apes do not
Most species of monkeys have tails. The Balinese long-tailed monkey, rhesus macaques, and African baboons have tails. However, there are monkeys that don’t appear to have tails. One example is the Barbary macaque that lives in the cedar forests of Algeria and Morocco. So how do we know that these Barbary macaques are monkeys and not apes? We must look at their habitat.
Most monkeys live in trees, while apes are comfortable on the ground as well as in trees
Have you noticed that monkeys never stay on the ground for very long? Trees provide food, shelter, and protection from predators. They can travel freely from one tree to another, but not when they are on the ground. However, some species of monkeys occupy habitat that is not dense with vegetation. For example, the Japanese macaques are very adaptable in various habitats in Japan – from subtropical forests to rocky hills and hot springs.
Apes are generally larger, while monkeys are smaller
Gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees are large primates that have broad chests and long arms. Can you think of any monkey that is bigger than these three primates? Some apes, like gibbons, are small, and look a little monkey-like. But gibbons share similar skeletal structure to the three primates above. Another hint is to see how the primates move around.
Apes swing around, monkeys run across
With their long arms, apes are able to swing between trees. They are also able to walk on two hind legs. But monkeys, having a skeletal structure similar to other mammals like dogs and cats, walk, crawl and run on all four limbs across tree branches.
Apes have higher cognitive abilities than monkeys
Because apes can walk on their hind legs, they free their arms to interact with the world. Chimpanzees and orangutans have been observed making tools to help them find insects in holes in the ground and in logs. These primates, along with gorillas, are able to learn human-made languages. They also have their own language, using special vocal signals and body language. Monkeys are able to communicate with one another, but it tends to be more simplistic compared to that of apes.
To learn more about apes, you can look for Chloe and Niluh, the Orangutans at the Banyan Court in the Orangutan Animal Encounter at Bali Safari Park.