Chapter One: Hey, Hey We're the Monkeys
The Family's Tree
Are gorillas a type of ape, or are apes gorillas? Are monkeys and apes the same thing? Are humans considered apes? Are simians different from primates? Help, Jeeves, I'm so confused!
You're not alone, my anthropoid friend. Let's lay it out with a minimum of screeching, howling, and chest-beating:
Primates are human beings and all of the other animals that resemble us most closely. Primates have two main groups:
anthropoids and prosimians.
1. Anthropoids include:
Monkeys. New World monkeys live in South and Central America and include marmosets, tamarins, capuchins, howlers, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, woolly monkeys, and even woolly spider monkeys. Old World monkeys live in Asia and Africa and include baboons, colobus monkeys, guenons, langurs, and macaques.
Apes. There are four major ape groupings -- chimpanzees, gibbons, gorillas, and orangutans. Apes have no tails and are smarter than monkeys. Apes walk in an upright position instead of on four feet like monkeys. Apes actually climb trees; monkeys take a leap into them.
Humans. It's pretty much just custom, religious dogma, and species egotism that keep people from proudly classifying themselves as apes. Most scientists don't make that distinction.
By the way, if you exclude the humans from the above group, the apes and monkeys you have left are known as simians.
2. Prosimians include a number of lesser-known animals like aye-ayes, galagos, lemurs, lorises, pottos, and tarsiers. Prosimii means "premonkey" -- in other words, they closely resemble the primitive primates that lived tens of millions of years ago before monkeys, apes, and humans began to evolve. Physically, prosimians have long, constantly wet noses like foxes instead of the flatter, drier noses of the anthropoids. Smell is more crucial to the prosimians, while anthropoids depend more on vision. Finally, the prosimians are not as strong or smart as the anthropoids.
Not counting the lemurs, which are lucky enough to be isolated on the island of Madagascar, most of the prosimians have to directly compete for food with better-equipped monkeys and apes. In order to survive, prosimians became nocturnal hunters that scrounge for food while their larger, smarter cousins sleep.
Not So Smart Smart
What does Homo sapiens mean?
"Wise human." That's already a fairly ironic joke, considering. However, it gets better: because anthropologists have identified other ancient subspecies of Homo sapiens (for example, Homo sapiens neandertalensis), modern humans are now known as Homo sapiens sapiens. That, of course, means "wise wise human," which seems to be really overstating the matter.
What was the Neanderthal man named after?
The first fossils of our long-dead relative were discovered in 1856 in the Neander Thal ("Neander Valley") in Germany, so he became known as Neanderthal Man. The Neander Thal was named in honor of a minister and hymn writer, Joachim Neumann, who used to frequent the valley on nature walks in the late 17th century. So why didn't they call the valley Neumann Thal? Deciding to use a pseudonym for his hymns, Neumann (whose name means "new man" in German) translated his name into Greek and got Neander, which is the name by which he became well known. It became a strange coincidence that "New Man Valley" was named long before a new subspecies of man was discovered there.
Do apes and monkeys see the same colors as humans?
Pretty much. Many of the New World monkeys are an exception to the rule -- they don't see red that well, giving their world a blue, green, and gold hue.
Are they called orangutans because of their color?
No, it means "person of the forest" in the Malay language.
Are any apes as evil as some humans? Do they kill each other? Do they commit crimes against members of their own species?
In this regard, we'd have to confer with some of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Thanks to the work of researchers like Jane Goodall, we know a lot about chimpanzee behavior -- both the best and the worst sort. And we do mean the very worst. Chimps have been known to murder other males while trying to gain dominance in a specific group. Lower-status males will sometimes steal food, sex, and other comforts while the dominant male isn't looking. And chimps commit rape. Of course, "rape" is a matter of definition, since normal chimp behavior often looks as if it's not that far removed from it. Dominant male chimps -- twice as large as the females -- often hold the power in sexual matters, regardless of what seem to be the females' preferences. Finally, chimps are very human in their capacity for war. They clash with other chimpanzee groups and will brutalize and kill their enemies.
On the other hand, under normal circumstances, chimpanzees have a great capacity for nurturing and being nurtured -- with each other and with humans. Chimp mothers often adopt orphaned chimp babies and raise them as their own.
With such a complex range of behavior, chimpanzees are indeed very close cousins to humans. Alas.
Apes of Wrath
Do other primates besides people ever cannibalize each other?
Although the practice is uncommon, chimpanzees have been known to eat other chimps. To be fair, this only occurs under unusually dire circumstances like starvation -- similar to times when humans have engaged in the practice. However, like some human groups, some chimps ritualistically eat the flesh of their dead opponents after a war. Biologists call this practice anthropophagy to reduce the emotional sting of the word cannibalism. We wouldn't want to stigmatize the dear little primates, after all.
Simian Meat Market
How many primates are major meat eaters?
Two: humans and chimps. You already know what people eat. A study of chimpanzee populations found that about 75 percent of the meat that chimps consumed consisted of red colobus monkey babies taken from their mothers. But researchers found that a chimp's main motivation for hunting is often sex -- if members of a hunting party offer fresh meat to a female in heat, most or all are likely to get lucky.
The Other Side of the Family
If our closest relatives, the chimps, are naturally warlike, male-dominated, and violent, how can humanity have any hope of transcending its own worst traits?
Don't give up the ship, mate. Even if you believe that our natural selves cannot be completely transcended, we have another, gentler side of the family to look to for comfort.
Bonobos are a subspecies closely related to the chimps (in fact, they're sometimes called pygmy chimpanzees). Even though bonobos and chimps are our closest relatives, sharing 98.4 percent of our genes, the bonobos are not as familiar to us as the chimps, in part because they weren't even discovered by Westerners until 1929. Coincidentally, local natives along the Zaire River, where the bonobos live, have many myths about how humankind and bonobos were once brothers. (How close are bonobos to humans? That 98.4 percent genetic similarity makes them as close to us as a fox is to a dog.)
Bonobos and chimps are both believed to have split off from the same ancestors as humans not that long ago in evolutionary history -- perhaps only 6.5 million years ago. Interestingly, unlike chimps and most other primates, the bonobos usually walk on two feet like humans, still affecting a hunched-over posture that closely resembles what scientists believe was the walking stance of our early human ancestors.
The bonobos give us hope by demonstrating that not all of our closest primate relatives are violent, warlike, cannibalistic, and exploitative. Instead, the bonobos are most interested in making love, not war. We can take comfort in the fact that some of them are lewd, obscene, and downright oversexed. In fact, they go at it like monkeys, as it were. Actually, much more often than monkeys -- they've developed a female-led, cooperative, and fairly egalitarian society in which continuous and promiscuous sex has become a powerful substitute for aggression.
Compare what happens in a society of bonobos and in one composed of chimpanzees. If a group of chimps come upon food, the dominant male claims it as his own, using a display of aggression that ensures he gets a chance to eat his fill before allowing others to eat. On the other hand, a group of bonobos coming upon food will immediately get aroused and begin having sex -- male and female, male and male, and (most common of all) female and female, all of them rubbing their genitals against those of another while grinning and making cooing sounds. After about five minutes, when all are feeling the magnanimous glow of orgasm, the bonobos go forward to feed as a community without regard to rank. Unlike chimps, bonobos don't hunt baby monkeys, or much of anything else, presumably since the guy bonobos don't have to do so to impress the gals. Except for an occasional small mammal, the bonobo diet contains very little animal protein.
A similar orgiastic thing happens when the bonobos come across anything that might be appealing enough to start conflicts. For example, when researchers in a zoo dropped a cardboard box into the compounds where chimps and bonobos lived, the dominant chimp used threats and violence to be the first to explore it. In contrast, the bonobos engaged in a brief orgy, and then all members of the group approached the box to explore it together.
Sometimes conflict happens anyway, despite the best-laid plans of the best-laid monkeys. For example, a bonobo adult might snap or hit at another peevishly. In that case, the matter is usually brought to a climax later by conciliatory activity that takes "kissing and making up" to whole new heights.
Perhaps corporate team-builders can find a lesson here somewhere.
Do any other apes except humans have monogamous and equal mating relationships?
Yes. Gibbons bond together as male and female and defend their territory from intruders, forsaking all others. All other apes, however, engage in some form of polygamy, wild sexual abandon, or both.
Do any primates other than humans have face-to-face sex?
Bonobos copulate face-to-face, looking deeply into each other's eyes. This occurs about a third of the time during sexual encounters. Humans once thought that they were unique in engaging in this especially intimate activity. In fact, Western scientists once believed that face-to-face sex was not even a natural position for humans but was a more advanced cultural innovation that had to be taught to primitive peoples (hence the term missionary position). Those clueless Western scientists were wrong on both counts.
Simian Says: Make a Rhyme!
Who was the gorilla from the Tom and Jerry cartoons?
Who was that cartoon gorilla with the hat, bow tie, and suspenders?
What is the Latin name for the western lowland gorilla?
Gorilla gorilla gorilla.
Who is more closely related: humans and gorillas, or gorillas and monkeys?
Humans and gorillas are closer relatives than gorillas and monkeys.
In The Blood of Rhesus
What does the Rh in Rh factor stand for?
Rhesus, as in the monkey that was once widely used in medical research. When Dr. Karl Landsteiner discovered some of the esoteric properties of blood in 1940, he decided to honor the rhesus monkeys that, in the process of making this discovery, were deprived of their freedom, blood, and lives.
Beware of Gorillas Making Hand Gestures
Does Koko the signing gorilla watch television?
She does. At some point, she went positively ape over Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Eventually Mr. Rogers came to visit Koko. Her response to seeing him in the flesh was interesting indeed, boys and girls: she wrapped her powerful arms around him, and then -- as she had seen him do hundreds of times on TV -- she reached down and took off his shoes.
Do signing gorillas use slang?
Well, maybe. Koko, the most adept signing gorilla ever, started using the sign for "nipple" for "people," perhaps because of the rhyme. She also started using "stink" for "flower." Another linguistic oddity she initiated is referring to any woman as "lips" and any man as "foot."
Can only gorillas use sign language, or have other apes been taught that too?
Chimps and, to a lesser extent, orangutans so far have also learned to sign. Washoe, the most accomplished chimpanzee, has a vocabulary of at least 240 words. He and his fellow chimps have so incorporated signing into their lives that they converse with each other by signing, and even "talk" to themselves when alone. While this chimp's vocabulary numbers are impressive, they're nowhere near the ones for Koko -- her handlers say she can understand 2,000 spoken words and respond with a vocabulary of up to 1,000 signs. On the other hand, some of Koko's answers are so esoteric and random that sometimes you have to wonder how much of what she says is her intentional communication and how much is the interpretation of her trainers. For example, a transcript of an on-line chat revealed these questions and answers between Koko and her trainer, Dr. Penny Patterson:
Q: Are you going to have a baby in the future?
K: [signs] Inattention.
P: Oh, poor sweetheart, she said "inattention." She covered her face with her hands, which means it's not happening, basically, or "I don't see it."
Q: What do you want for your birthday?
K: Food smokes.
P: You have to understand that Smoky is the name of her kitten.
Q: Do you feel love from the humans who have raised you?
K: Lips apple give me.
P: People give her her favorite foods.
Specs and Spans
How long are gorilla arms?
Gorilla arms are longer than their legs. Measured from fingertip to fingertip on outstretched arms, the longest span measured was nine feet, two inches. However, a more typical adult male arm span is about eight feet.
How much water does a gorilla typically drink in a day?
None. Gorillas get all the moisture they need from the leaves, tubers, flowers, fruit, fungus, and insects they eat -- roughly fifty pounds of food a day.
Where did the name gorilla come from?
Calling some big hairy guy a gorilla isn't as much an interspecies insult as you would imagine (at least not to the person, although gorillas might have a different opinion). That's strange, because although we usually can safely assume that the animal had the name before we twisted it into a derogatory description of a human being, in the case of the gorilla, people had the name for nearly twenty-three centuries before it was applied to an ape.
Gorilla was first used by the Greeks in the 5th century B.C. They got the name from Gorillai, the name of a particularly hairy tribe of African natives. Greeks began using the word to describe any group of people they considered socially primitive. The British eventually picked it up and, in 1799, began using gorilla to mean any hairy aboriginal human. It wasn't until fifty years later that the term was used for a nonhuman. An American missionary named Thomas S. Savage was the first non-African to see a gorilla. In 1849 he gave it the name that had previously meant a hairy native person, and it stuck.
Does the word guerrilla have anything to do with gorilla?
No. Guerrilla means "little war" in Spanish.
What should you do if charged by a gorilla?
First of all, complain to your credit card company (okay, okay, so it's an old joke)....Being charged by a gorilla can be a very serious thing, so let us not digress any further. The good news is that gorillas are normally very shy and amiable; the bad news is that if you wander into their territory, the male leader will charge at you, beating his chest and looking mighty mean as the females and children run in the other direction. Gorillas may not have any natural enemies, but they're not real keen on trespassers.
So what do you do if a gorilla comes running at you, beating his chest and growling? You must, at all costs, not do the rational thing -- run. Intruders who run away are often chased down and killed. Instead, screw up your courage, stand up straight, and hold your ground. Those who do are almost never harmed.
What happens when a silverback gorilla is defeated by another male?
All good things must come to an end. A typical gorilla band is led by one silverback male -- a gorilla old enough that some of its back hair has turned gray. Traveling in his entourage are several mature females, one or two subordinate males, and young gorillas of both genders. Eventually, though, he gets old enough that he can no longer defend himself from interlopers from outside the group or even from his once-loyal subordinates. To the victor goes the harem and the perks of leadership, but what becomes of the vanquished silverback? Does he stick around and act as elder statesman and senior adviser?
No such luck. He is vanquished completely from the group. A silverback defeated by a rival will lead a solitary life from that day on.
Gorillas Will Be Missed
Are there any zoos in the U.S. that have mountain gorillas like those that Dian Fossey worked with?
There are fewer than 650 mountain gorillas left in the wild, and not a single one in zoos. It's difficult to transport mountain gorillas from their remote homes in central Africa. More significant, though, is that they don't survive well outside their native habitat. Unlike their common lowland cousins, and despite multiple attempts, no mountain gorilla has survived captivity for more than a few years.
Hopped-up Cappuccino Monkeys
Do capuchin monkeys have anything to do with cappuccino?
More than any reasonable person could expect. Both were reportedly named after the distinctive robe and cowl worn by Capuchin monks: the coffee drink because it's the same distinctive color, and the monkey because the dark brown hair on top of its head looks like a monk's hood. You may have seen capuchins in monkey suits (although you may have missed the tell-tale head markings, since they were wearing a hat) -- they're the ones used by organ grinders to collect coins from passersby.
The Insouciance of Euro-Monkeys
Did wild monkeys ever live in Europe?
"Did"? They still do. Barbary apes live on the Rock of Gibraltar, a British colony at the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea on the southern tip of Spain. Despite the name, this "ape" is really a monkey related to the rhesus monkey of India, and should probably be renamed, more accurately, the Barbary macaque.
The British government protects the monkeys on Gibraltar. Legend has it that the monkeys once returned the favor by warning the British of a sneak attack by the Spanish Armada. According to tradition, the British will always hold the rock as long as the monkeys live there.
There are only 5,000 Barbary apes worldwide, with the bulk of them living in remote areas of Morocco and Algeria, in northern Africa.
Can gorillas swim?
No. In case you're ever chased by one (which admittedly doesn't happen that often), face it down. Short of that, head toward the river; a gorilla won't follow you into the water. Some monkeys do swim, however -- for example, the proboscis monkeys of Borneo are as graceful gliding through the water as they are swinging from the trees.
And God Said,
Send in the Monkeys!
If people evolved from apes and monkeys, then why are apes and monkeys still around today?
This is most commonly asked by creationists -- mostly well-meaning Christians who wish to hold up their Bibles as absolute and literal truth in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Still, it's an intriguing question, because on the face of it, it sounds like it would sort of make sense: You have apes long ago that slowly get smarter and less hairy, eventually becoming humans with all of the benefits thereof (fast food, fast cars, fast Internet connections, etc.). If they evolved from a lower form (apes) to a higher and better form (humans), then you'd think the laws of evolution would ensure that all the members of the species would also change, right?
Well, in reality the question is a little like asking, "If I evolved from my great-grandfather Fred, how could it be that my cousin Bertha also evolved from him?"
The scientific evidence points to the conclusion that all primates evolved from some no-longer-existing common ancestor. What's interesting is that not all the primates split off at the same time into different groupings. Scientists believe that almost 7 million years ago, some early forms of gorilla split off from the chimps-and-humans line, and that a little over
6 million years ago, early human ancestors went a different direction from the early chimps. Since that time, scores of different species branched off from each of the lines. All of these species were like tree branches, the theory goes, splitting off in different directions, many of them living concurrently, some thriving, and some dying out. For example, in the same time as early modern humans -- Homo sapiens -- lived, at least three other peoplelike cousins also lived: Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neandertalensis. Also living, of course, were all of the other various cousins -- the gorillas, the chimps, etc.
The different primates evolved in different ways to best adapt to the environmental conditions of the place and time in which they lived. Gorillas, chimps, and humans evolved with characteristics that made each best suited to their particular environment -- whether plains, forest, or the urban jungle. No one species is necessarily higher or more advanced than another, just differently adapted.
So that's why there are still apes living alongside us. Wave hello to your cousins. They may have limited intelligence and lousy table manners, but that's often true of cousins in general, wouldn't you say?
When and why did the phrase "I'll be a monkey's uncle" become popular?
"I'll be a monkey's uncle!" was a socially acceptable substitution for the shockingly blasphemous phrase "I'll be damned!" It became popular around 1925 during the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial," in which Tennessee history teacher John Scopes was prosecuted and convicted for the crime of teaching about the theory of evolution.
After John Scopes was found guilty of illegally teaching about the theory of evolution, how long was it before those laws were repealed in Tennessee?
It was a crime to inform Tennessee schoolchildren that a theory of evolution even existed until 1967. That was roughly forty-two years after Scopes was prosecuted.
The Chimp Is Not My Son
Would chimpanzees make good house pets?
Not at all. Don't even think of it. For one thing, they can live more than fifty years, which is quite a commitment. For another, even a toddler chimp is stronger than you'll ever be, and an adult can easily lift 600 pounds without straining much. That might not necessarily be a problem, except that they grow to be ornery as well. They generally refuse to acknowledge the concept of toilet training, they're aggressive, they can never be fully domesticated, and they enhance their status within their tribe by constantly testing those above them to see if there's a weakness somewhere. Even if you could establish that you and your family were the alpha members of the tribe -- as you can do with a dog -- it would not take long for your pet to realize that it could easily whup all of you hairless primates upside the head with one hand holding a banana.
But let's say you genuinely feel you can handle a baby chimp and intend to return it to the jungle when it reaches adolescence. Still -- don't do it. Baby chimps don't stay children for long, and returning one to the wild after raising it would be handing it a death sentence. The other chimps in the wild are not in the habit of accepting a new chimp into their midst, and they would likely kill it if it tried to join their group. So keeping in mind the example of Michael Jackson and Bubbles (below) and the fact that the poaching of chimps for research labs and private collectors is threatening their existence in the wild, it is best not to monkey around with chimpanzees as house pets.
What happened to Michael Jackson's chimp, Bubbles?
Michael Jackson claimed he rescued Bubbles from a cancer-research lab in Texas. For a few years the two cute little primates were inseparable, and the chimp was pampered. Bubbles reportedly had twenty matching designer outfits and got his own hotel room when he traveled, and Jackson talked baby talk to him while changing the chimp's diapers. How precious.
However, the baby chimp grew up and became less cute and more unpredictable. He began challenging Jackson for the dominant male position, and Jackson had trouble holding his own in the competition. In 1988 Jackson claimed that Bubbles had slugged him, and after conferring with primate expert Jane Goodall, he gave his eleven-year-old chimp friend to a private zoo.
Still, We Wouldn't Trust Any of Them with No. 2 Pencils
If you gave animals an IQ test, which ones would be the smartest?
From various estimates of intelligence among animals, it's clear that primates rule in the smartness scale. Of the top ten, seven are in that category. (However, keep in mind that primates came up with the concept of being measured, so maybe you should take this ranking with a grain of salt.) Here's how they stack up:
2. Chimpanzees (including bonobos)
8. Smaller toothed whales (especially the killer whale)
How big is a chimpanzee's brain?
About half the size of a human's.
Marmoset There'd Be Days Like This
What is the smallest monkey?
The pygmy marmoset, which is about the size of a small squirrel and weighs about as much as a Quarter Pounder, bun and all. In fact, marmosets clamber up trees like squirrels -- they're one of the few monkeys that have claws instead of finger- and toenails. While up in the trees, they feast on insects and fruit, and chew holes in trees to suck out the sap.
What's the loudest monkey?
The howler monkey. A small band can make as much noise as a stadium full of people and can be heard three miles away.
It seems like they'd be hard to catch -- do any predators eat tree monkeys?
Eagles do, swooping down and grabbing them with their powerful talons. Still, they're better off than monkeys that spend a lot of time on the ground. All of the meat eaters from lions to hyenas seem to want rhesus pieces.
Cold Enough to Freeze a Brass Monkey
How can I put this delicately? I was watching some chimps at the zoo, and noticed that they seemed to have enormous testicles compared to male humans'. The gorilla next door had tiny ones. What gives?
Most people think that a gorilla would be hung like an ape, and they're surprised to find out that they're wrong. Despite being the largest primate, weighing in at 350 to 450 pounds, the gorilla has testicles that weigh only a bit more than 1 ounce total for the pair. Although humans and orangutans are lighter than gorillas, they are better endowed, weighing in at 1.5 ounces. What's even more surprising is that the 100-pound chimpanzee's testicles tip the scales at a whopping 4 ounces.
Biologists and insecure male humans have long puzzled over the mystery of why that might be. Finally, after a lot of research that involved invading the privacy of an awful lot of primates, they finally, once and for all, figured it out.
Not too surprisingly, it turns out that the size of a primate's testicles are a really good indicator of sperm count. What researchers didn't count on was that sperm count is a good indicator of how secure a male is in the love of a good female primate.
Females, although infinitely divine, are by nature notoriously fickle things. Females in species after species -- primates and otherwise -- hedge their reproductive bets by mating with whatever males they can find. This is good for them and the propagation of said species, because it ensures that their eggs get fertilized. However, what's good for them is profoundly unsettling to the males, who can never be sure that they are the real fathers of the children of their mates.
So what does this have to do with the size of ape testicles? Generally, the more promiscuous the women are within a species, the larger the testicles of the males who love them. Based on the same principle that buying more tickets ups your chance of winning the lottery, the males with the biggest testicles (and sperm counts) tend to have a better chance of reproducing with promiscuous females.
Given that, you can fairly accurately infer each species' sexual behavior by measuring the males' testicles. For example, male gorillas are pretty secure. They live in closed societies in which they constantly watch the females and make a point of running off any male interlopers. So gorillas can easily get by with small testicles and sperm counts to match -- about 65 million of the little guys per ejaculation.
Chimpanzees, at the other extreme, mate promiscuously. A female chimp in heat will take on suitors left and right, and the males are equally ready to jump when the opportunity presents itself. The males with the highest sperm counts have competed best in the reproductive lottery that has continued over millions of years. As a result, those well-endowed chimps and other promiscuous male primates have testicles the size of cannonballs, and routinely issue forth billions of sperm with each ejaculation.
How do humans shape up in comparison, then? Someplace in between, considering our levels of both female fidelity and male fertility. An average human male sends off between 200 and 500 million sperm per ejaculation.
Interestingly, even among individual humans, the sperm levels are also somewhat dependent on how much security the male feels regarding the fidelity of his partner. Males in couples that spend most of their time together have lower sperm counts; yet the same males, when separated from their partners for more time, develop higher sperm counts, even when the interval between ejaculations remains constant. Interestingly, that same fact holds true in adulterous relationships, where time together is usually rare and irregular; as a result, a disproportionate number of children born to adulterous human females are sired by their lovers instead of their husbands.
Walk Like a Man
Does any ape or monkey normally walk on two legs only?
The gibbon does, holding its arms up and out for balance.
Do any apes or monkeys not live in forests or jungles?
Baboons are adapted to living on solid ground. They generally avoid forests, spend little time in trees, and are most comfortable traveling in herds on open land.
A Tail with a Happy Ending
What is "tail-twining"?
It's an affectionate practice of the tiny titi monkeys of the Amazon. Two, three, or four titis sit on a branch while resting or sleeping and wrap their tails together into a friendly, loving spiral.
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