New World Platyrrhine Monkeys

The New World monkeys are a highly successful and diversified group colonizing Central and South America. The term usually refers to the infraorder Platyrrhini, meaning "flat-nosed." As compared with the Catarrhine monkeys, the nostrils of the Platyrrhines are broadly separated and usually point to the sides. Members of the Platyrrhines include capuchins, howler monkeys, sakis, woolly monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and uakaris, a total of about forty-five species.

New World monkeys have long, thin fingers on each hand, with flattened or curved nails. Although their thumbs are not opposable, as they are in the human, the big toe can be opposed against the other toes for gripping branches tightly. New World monkeys are excellent runners and jumpers, swinging and leaping through their densely wooded habitats. Their tails are fully prehensile; they can grasp objects at the tip and curl around a branch and support the full body weight of the animal. In almost all cases, the tail is at least as long as the head and body, and it acts as a balancing organ, often being held in a curled pattern.

None of the New World monkeys are ground dwellers, unlike the baboons and other Old World monkeys. None of them have cheek pouches, and sexual dimorphism is rarely seen. New World monkeys are gregarious and live in family-based

New World Monkeys
Most monkeys live in social groups that range over a defined territory in search of food. (PhotoDisc)

Monkey Facts


Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Class: Mammalia Order: Primate Suborder: Anthropoidea

Families: Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys, eight genera, forty-five species); Cebidae (New World, capuchin-like monkeys, eleven genera, and thirty species) Geographical location: Africa and Asia (Catar-rhines), Central and South America (Platyr-rhines)

Habitat: Mostly forests, some grasslands Gestational period: Old World monkeys, 5 to 6 months; New World monkeys, 4 to 7.5 months Life span: Old World monkeys, twenty to thirty-one years; New World monkeys, twelve to twenty-five years Special anatomy: Opposable thumbs, forward-facing eyes for binocular vision, large brain case groups with much vocal and visual communication. They have highly developed olfactory organs that may also be used for communication. Males of many species contain a glandular patch on the sternum (breastbone) which they rub against tree branches to act as scent markers. Marking by means of urine and feces is also common. For instance, night monkeys coat their hands and feet with urine so that they leave a telltale scent wherever they go.

Families are well developed in most species of monkeys, although females do most of the caring for their offspring. Mothers usually carry their young on their backs until they are ready to move through the canopy on their own. Group size seems to depend primarily on the productivity and abundance of the foods typically eaten by the species. Species that live in small groups tend to feed on small, scattered, or scarce resources such as insects, small vine fruit, or newly emerged leaves of bamboo. Species that form large groups use abundant or clumped resources, such as fruits on large fig trees. Small family groups are typically one to three animals, while large groups may involve seven to twenty members.

—Kerry L. Cheesman See also: Apes to hominids; Baboons; Cannibalism; Chimpanzees; Communication; Communities; Evolution: Animal life; Evolution: Historical perspective; Fauna: Africa; Gorillas; Groups; Hominids; Homo sapiens and human diversification; Human evolution analysis; Infanticide; Learning; Lemurs; Mammalian social systems; Orangutans; Primates.


Boitani, Luigi, and Stefania Bertoli. Simon and Schuster's Guide to Mammals. Translated by Simon Pleasaunce, edited by Sydney Anderson. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. Compact guide to individual species, using color symbols to show world location and habitat type.

Macdonald, David, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File, 1984. Short factual paragraphs about each species, with general information about each family and order.

Nowak, Ronald. Walker's Mammals of the World. 2 vols. 6th ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. A classic two-volume set, supplies details for each species, with notations about habitat, location, and special characteristics.

Voelker, William. The Natural History of Living Mammals. Medford, N.J.: Plexus, 1986. A good description of each family including natural history, ecology, and distinctive features.

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