What's the Difference Between an Ape and a Monkey?

What's the Difference Between an Ape and a Monkey?

Lots of people have pet peeves.  Ours is a bit unusual. Or maybe not, given the content of our website.  Walking through the zoo, people love to "ooh" and "aah" over the animals they see. Us included.  But when someone says, "look at the monkey" when they are looking at a chimpanzee, it's more than we can take.

Chimpanzee - an ape

Chimps (and their close cousins Bonobos) are not monkeys. They are apes.  How can you tell (and what's the difference, anyway)?  Most monkeys have tails.  NO species of Apes have tails.  

Take a peek in the mirror.  Do you see a tail? Nope. You are much more closely related to apes than you are to monkeys on the evolutionary tree!  Humans are part of the group called Greater Apes which also includes Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans and Gorillas.  Lesser Apes, referring to their smaller body size, include Gibbons and Siamangs.

Other Ape Species Include...

Orangutan - an ape


Mountain Gorillas - apes


Gibbon - an ape
and Gibbons and Siamangs (lesser apes)...


While most apes are larger than monkeys, gibbons and siamangs are smaller than some types of monkeys.

Monkeys Have Tails. 

Spot the tail on these monkeys. 

Baby baboon
Baby Baboon from Tanzania


Long-tailed macaque - a monkey
Long-tailed macaque from Malaysia


Black-handed Spider Monkey
Black-handed Spider Monkey from Costa Rica


Thomas’s leaf monkey
Thomas’s leaf monkey from Indonesia


What about Curious George?

I'm going to throw you a monkey wrench.  Now that you can tell the difference between monkeys and apes, what do you make of Curious George?

Curious George

This should be easy, right?  No tail means that he's an ape.  But Margaret Rey, who penned these books with her artist husband Hans, says, "We loved monkeys and just wrote a book about a monkey,"  Hmmmmm.....make of this what you will. 

What's your take - is George an ape or a monkey?


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  • Michelle Stern
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