Just like humans, monkeys and apes are primates and have evolved to live among trees. We all share forward-facing eyes for depth perception and flexible limbs to move between branches (who else has fond memories of the monkey bars?!). We all also show our emotions by using different facial expressions.

Because monkeys and apes have much in common, it’s easy to think they are the same animal. But the reality? Not only are they not the same animal. They belong to two different groups of primates!

So, how can you tell the difference? It’s not as confusing as you might think. All you need to do is ask yourself three questions:

1. Does it have a tail? Most monkeys have a tail, but apes don’t. An easy way to remember this? Humans are apes, and we don’t have tails!

2. Does it swing through the trees? Apes have greater mobility in their shoulder joints, so they can use their arms to gracefully swing from tree to tree. Fun fact: This type of movement is known as brachiation! While most monkeys are limited to leaping between tree, or scurrying along the tops of branches. The term “monkey bars” is a little bit misleading!

3. Does it look and act a lot like me? Scientifically speaking, humans fall into the family of Great Apes – this means we share more characteristics with chimpanzees than monkeys do. Chimpanzees are generally larger and smarter than monkeys, can stand on two legs, have opposable thumbs and can manipulate simple tools, and can show signs of understanding language. It makes sense – bonobos and chimpanzees, both apes, are our closest living relatives; they share nearly 99% of our DNA.

Photo Credit: Fernando Turmo/JGI

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