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Range of the nonhuman primates (green)

A primate (/ˈprmt/ (About this sound listen) PRY-mayt) is a mammal of the order Primates (Latin: "prime, first rank"). In taxonomy, primates include two distinct lineages, strepsirrhines and haplorhines. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging environment. Most primate species remain at least partly arboreal.

With the exception of humans, who inhabit every continent, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa and Asia. They range in typical size from Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, which weighs only 30 g (1 oz), to the eastern gorilla, weighing over 200 kg (440 lb). Based on fossil evidence, the earliest known true primates, represented by the genus Teilhardina, date to 55.8 mya. An early close primate relative known from abundant remains is the Late Paleocene Plesiadapis, c. 55–58 million years old. Molecular clock studies suggest that the primate branch may be even older, originating near the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary or around 63–74 mya.

The order Primates was traditionally divided into two main groupings: prosimians and anthropoids (simians). Prosimians have characteristics more like those of the earliest primates, and include the lemurs of Madagascar, lorisoids, and tarsiers. Simians include monkeys and apes. More recently, taxonomists have preferred to split primates into the suborder Strepsirrhini, or wet-nosed primates, consisting of non-tarsier prosimians, and the suborder Haplorhini, or dry-nosed primates, consisting of tarsiers and the simians.

Simians are divided into two groups: catarrhine (narrow-nosed) monkeys and apes of Africa and Southeast Asia and platyrrhine ("flat-nosed") or New World monkeys of South and Middle America. Catarrhines consist of Old World monkeys (such as baboons and macaques), gibbons and great apes; New World monkeys include the capuchin, howler and squirrel monkeys. Humans are the only extant catarrhines to have spread successfully outside of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia, although fossil evidence shows many other species were formerly present in Europe. New primate species are still being discovered. More than 25 species were taxonomically described in the decade of the 2000s and eleven have been described since 2010.

Considered generalist mammals, primates exhibit a wide range of characteristics. Some primates (including some great apes and baboons) are primarily terrestrial rather than arboreal, but all species possess adaptations for climbing trees. Locomotion techniques used include leaping from tree to tree, walking on two or four limbs, knuckle-walking, and swinging between branches of trees (brachiation).

Primates are characterized by large brains relative to other mammals, as well as an increased reliance on stereoscopic vision at the expense of smell, the dominant sensory system in most mammals. These features are more developed in monkeys and apes and noticeably less so in lorises and lemurs. Trichromatism has developed in some primates. Except for apes, they have tails. Most primates also have opposable thumbs. Many species are sexually dimorphic; differences include body mass, canine tooth size, and coloration. Primates have slower rates of development than other similarly sized mammals and reach maturity later, but have longer lifespans. Depending on the species, adults may live in solitude, in mated pairs, or in groups of up to hundreds of members.

Selected article

Katta Lemur catta.jpg
Lemurs are strepsirrhine primates, all species of which are endemic to Madagascar. They include the smallest primate in the world, Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, which weighs 30 grams (1.1 oz), and range up to the size of the indri, which can weigh as much as 9.5 kilograms (21 lb). However, recently extinct species grew much larger. As of 2008, 5 families, 15 genera, and 99 species and subspecies of lemur are formally recognized. Of the 99 species and subspecies, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 8 as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered, 14 as Vulnerable, 5 as Near Threatened, 8 as Least Concern, 43 as Data Deficient, and 3 have yet to be evaluated. From 2000 through 2008, 39 new species were described and 9 other taxa resurrected.

The number of lemur species is likely to continue growing in the coming years, as field studies, cytogenetic and molecular genetic research continues. There is not complete agreement over the latest revisions to lemur taxonomy, and the debates are likely to continue. In many cases, classifications will ultimately depend upon which species concept is used. In the case of the lemurs of Madagascar, which have suffered extensively from deforestation and habitat fragmentation, nearly 25% of all species are either Endangered or Critically Endangered, most have yet to be extensively studied, and nearly all populations are in decline. For these reasons, taxonomists and conservationists favor splitting them into separate species to develop an effective strategy for the conservation of the full range of lemur diversity. Implicitly, this means that full species status will help grant genetically distinct populations added environmental protection.

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Cscr-featured.svg Credit: Whaldener Endo

The white-fronted capuchin, Cebus albifrons, is a species of capuchin monkey, a type of New World primate, found in seven different countries in South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago. The species is divided into several different subspecies, though the specific divisions are uncertain and controversial.

Primates News

Archives: 2009



  • August 4 - Orangutans may be going deep to deter predators, and some are even using tools to sound more intimidating, a new study says. Read more
  • August 3 - The most malignant known form of malaria may have jumped from chimpanzees to humans, according to a new study of one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Read more


  • July 28 - Mani the monkey uses her own mysterious methods to tend dozens of goats without any supervision or training, according to the Associated Press. Read more
  • July 8 - Monkeys can form sentences and speak in accents—and now a new study shows that our genetic relatives can also recognize poor grammar. Read more


Selected species

Nycticebus menagensis (Philippine slow loris)
Status iucn3.1 VU.svg
Vulnerable (IUCN 3.1)|Vulnerable

The Philippine slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis) is a strepsirrhine primate and a species of slow loris that is native to the north and east coastal areas of the island of Borneo, as well as the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines. The species was first named as the Bornean slow loris in 1892, but lumped into the widespread Sunda slow loris (N. coucang) in 1952. However, it was promoted to full species status – again as the Bornean slow loris – based on molecular analysis in 2006. In 2013, two former subspecies of the Bornean slow loris were elevated to species status, and a new species—N. kayan—was recognized among the Bornean population.

Weighing 265–300 grams (9.3–10.6 oz), it is one of the smallest of the slow lorises, and can be distinguished from other slow lorises by its pale golden to red fur, the lack of markings on its head, and consistent absence of a second upper incisor. Like other slow lorises, it has a vestigial tail, round head, short ears, a curved grooming claw for grooming, and a gland that produces an oily toxin that the animal uses for defense. The Philippine slow loris is arboreal, nocturnal, and occurs in low densities, making it difficult to locate. It is also the least studied of Indonesia's slow lorises. It is found at elevations between 35–100 meters (115–328 ft) in primary and secondary lowland forest, gardens, and plantations. Information about its diet is limited, but it is suspected to be one of the more insectivorous slow loris species, and is also known to eat gum from woody plants.

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