Monkeys versus apes

What's the difference? Jacob Dunn explains all...
12 February 2019


An ape



What’s the difference between a monkey and an ape?


We received this question on The Naked Scientists forum. Chris Smith asked zoologist Jacob Dunn from Anglia Ruskin University to explain the difference...

Jacob - In basic terms in simple terms, primates are distinguished into two major groups so there's the group that has the lemurs and lorises and bush babies. And then there's the other big group of which we are part, which are all the monkeys and apes and these other funny ones called the tarsiers, but we won't worry about them. And so simply put within this group of the monkeys and the apes, monkeys are everything you find in the Americas and all the monkeys that you find in Asia and Africa and the apes are just the apes - gibbons, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees and humans.

Primates are all of these things so all of the lemurs and lorises and all of the monkeys and apes are all primates. And this is where the sort of slightly more complicated answer comes in because really the bigger layer is primates. And then within the group of the monkeys and the apes the next sort of layer within this nested hierarchy if you like is what we would call monkeys. And within that we find the apes so in sort of technical terms, in terms of organizing species, actually apes are monkeys. And so that's where it starts to get a bit more complicated and circular. So the words monkeys and apes are actually in scientific terms they're not very useful words but in simple terms it’s the difference that I said with the simple answer.


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