Monkeys and other primates are the closest relatives to humans. They age slowly and similarly to humans as well. It’s interesting to see how their lifespans compare to ours.
For instance, the oldest known monkey is a spider monkey named Elvis. Impressively, Elvis just recently turned 60 years old.
Smaller, Prosimian monkeys have the shortest lifespans. Their average lifespans are about 10-15 years. On the other hand, Old World monkeys live the longest, with lifespans of up to 30 years.
But exactly how long do monkeys live? Does their size and location in the world have a role to play? Which monkeys live the longest? The shortest? Keep reading, and we’ll explore each of these questions.
How Long Do Monkeys Live?
Have you ever wondered how long do monkeys live? How long a monkey lives is really going to depend on the species. Some monkeys only live for about 10-15 years, while others can live up to 30 years.
The Life Cycle Of A Monkey
All primates tend to have the same basic life cycle. This includes humans, apes, and monkeys.
Monkeys have three stages in their life cycle: gestation, infanthood, and adulthood.
Depending on the species, gestation can last anywhere from 4-8 months. Once mating has occurred, the mother will give birth to one to three babies. A single baby is the most common, and it is exceptionally rare for a mother to give birth to more than one infant.
Most infants nurse and stay with their mothers for about one year. But this number varies between species.
Infants experience growth spurts in terms of height and weight. In monkeys, growth spurts occur at a younger age and last for a shorter period.
The juvenile stage will then last anywhere from 18 months to 8 years.
Primates go through delayed puberty, unlike most mammals. Puberty does not begin until growth is nearly complete.
As they age, females will stay in the family group for the rest of their life. Males will leave their family group to form a group of other young bachelors. They will stay in these bachelor groups until they reach sexual maturity. Then, they will become the leader of their own group.
A monkey becomes an adult when it reaches sexual maturity. Depending on the species, this may occur anywhere between 18 months and 8 years of age.
Most species live in groups headed by a single dominant male. The rest of the group consists of females and their young offspring.
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Monkeys have very different lifespans depending on their species. Generally, they will live anywhere between 10-30 years. The Old World monkeys, who are larger, tend to have longer lifespans than New World monkeys.
In this list, I have included some of the most interesting monkeys. Still, there are about 260 species of monkeys worldwide, so this list is very small. If you’d like to learn about other monkey species, check out this wonderful article.
Old World Monkeys
Monkeys consist of two groups: the old world and the new world monkeys.
Old World monkeys live across Asia and Africa and are larger in size. They bear flat but sharp fingernails on their hands. Their nostrils are usually narrow and pointing downward. Their buttocks also feature padding but are hairless.
Old World monkeys may live both on land and in the trees. Interestingly, they are only able to see in black and white.
Prosimians — The Shortest-Lived Monkeys
Prosimians are a group of monkeys who develop rapidly. They have very short lifespans compared to other monkeys. This group includes lemurs, bushbabies, lorises, and tarsiers.
1. Northern Sportive Lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) — World’s Rarest Lemur
The northern sportive lemurs are the rarest monkey in the world. The Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), Bristol Zoological Society, the International Primatological Society (IPS), and Conservation International (CI) have put together a list of the 25 most endangered primates.
The Hainan gibbon, which is more of an ape than a monkey, is at the top of this list. The Northern sportive lemur comes in at a close second. Researchers believe that there are only about 50 individuals left residing in Madagascar.
These lemurs are one of the smallest lemur species. They have less prominent ears than other lemurs. Their fur is gray-brown. They prefer to stand in an upright posture. This allows them to display their hands and feet when clinging to trees.
- In Captivity: 15 years
- In the Wild: 8 years
2. Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana)
The golden snub-nosed monkey is one of the most beautiful monkeys in the world. Both males and females have bright golden bellies, necks, and foreheads.
Males have grayish-black on their neck, arms, shoulders, back, and tail. The same areas on the female are dark brown.
You’ll find these monkeys across the Tibetan Plateau of southwestern China. They handle the cold better than any other monkey alive. They are often found at elevations of 5,249-13,123ft (1,600-4,000m) above sea level.
- In Captivity: About 20-25 years
- In the Wild: Not described
3. Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) — Oldest-Living Monkey Species
The olive baboon is broadly distributed across central sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer habitats of savannah, grassland, and rainforests.
Males often reach twice the size of females and have large canine teeth. They get their name from their coat which is of dark olive coloration.
Olive baboons likely have the longest lifespans of any other monkey species.
- In Captivity: 25-30 years
- In the Wild: 25-30 years
4. Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx)
Mandrills live across southwestern Cameroon, western Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Southwestern Congo. They prefer habitats of tropical rainforests and montane forests.
They are most noticeable for their large heads and compact bodies. In contrast, they have long, strong limbs.
A key feature of these monkeys is their bright coloring which they use for communication. When they become excited, the blue of their buttocks and chest intensifies. They may also develop red dots along their wrists and ankles.
- In Captivity: 32 years
- In the Wild: 46 years
5. Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus)
Proboscis monkeys only live on the island of Borneo, where they prefer to live near the coast. They inhabit mangrove forests found along rivers, estuaries, swamps, and lowland rainforests.
Their most noticeable characteristic is their large nose. Only males have large noses, and they project vocalizations for better communication.
- In Captivity: 23 years
- In the Wild: 13-20 years
6. Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata)
The Japanese macaque, or the snow monkey, is native to the southern islands of Japan. They are mainly found on the Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu islands.
They prefer subtropical and subalpine forest habitats. They live in areas with harsh winters that receive lots of rainfall.
These monkeys are known for their colorful faces and buttocks, which are red in color. Their coats are very thick to keep them warm during the frigid winters. They also have small, stubby tails.
- In Captivity: 33 years
- In the Wild: 23 years
7. Geladas (Theropithecus gelada) — The Most Common Monkey
Geladas, or bleeding heart monkeys, are the most populous monkeys in the world. They are outnumbered only by humans and Muller’s Bornean Gibbon, which is an ape, not a monkey.
They are native to the highlands of Ethiopia, where they gather in the Semien mountains. They are also the most terrestrial non-human primates in the world.
They live high up in the mountains, so their fingers are short and stumpy for easier rock climbing.
- In Captivity: 30 years
- In the Wild: 20 years
New World Monkeys
New World monkeys contain some of the world’s shortest and oldest monkey species. The prosimians develop the quickest and also have the shortest lifespans.
New World monkeys live across South and Central America and mostly in trees. They have long, sharp nails and no padding on their buttocks.
Their nostrils are wider and rounder in shape. Also, like humans, New World monkeys can see in color.
1. Common Marmoset (Callithrix jacchus)
The common marmoset is also known as the white-tufted-ear marmoset. They live in the coastal rainforest of southeastern Brazil. They are native to northeastern Brazil. However, much of that habitat has faced destruction.
These monkeys are distinguishable by the white tufts of fur on their ears. They also have a white blaze of fur that runs across their forehead.
The rest of the fur on their head is dark brown. The fur on their back is grayish-brown with light stripping. They also have transverse stripping down their long tails.
- In Captivity: 16 years
- In the Wild: 10 years
2. Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)
The Central American spider monkey is native to the coasts of Mexico. They live in the northeast from Tamaulipas down to Jalisco in the southwest. They live as far west as northwestern Colombia. They prefer to live in mature rainforests and montane forests.
These monkeys are small but have extremely long tails and limbs compared to their body. They also have a small head with a very long muzzle. Their upper body is black, brown, or reddish. Their face consists of light-colored skin.
- In Captivity: 47 years
- In the Wild: 27 years
3. Pygmy Marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea) — The Smallest Monkey In the World
The pygmy marmoset is the smallest monkey in the world, with an average body length of just 5.1 in (13 cm). Their bodies are brown and gray, but they have yellow, green, and black markings down their heads and backs. They also have long hair around their head and neck, giving the illusion of a lion’s mane.
These monkeys are native to Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Their habitat spans the Andean foothills in Columbia and Peru. It goes northern into Bolivia and the Amazon Basin in Brazil.
They love to live in multistratal river-edge forests. Most of the time, you can find them in lower elevations. They also prefer to live within the understory of the trees rather than the canopies.
- In Captivity: 19 years
- In the Wild: 11-12 years
4. Emperor Tamarin (Saguinus imperator)
The emperor tamarin lives in southeast Peru, northwest Bolivia, and northwest Brazil. They live throughout the Amazon rainforest. Some populations also live near the Acre, Purus, and Jurua river drainages of Peru.
Emperor tamarins are small monkeys with tails that are longer than their bodies. Their bodies are mostly gray, with some yellow on their back and red speckling on their breast. The crown of their head is a silvery brown color. Their hands and feet are black, and their tail is reddish brown.
- In Captivity: 20 years
- In the Wild: 13 years
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What Factors Affect a Monkey’s Life?
Many factors can influence how long a monkey will live. The main factor is their species. Some species simply live longer than others.
For example, Old World monkeys tend to be larger than their New World counterparts. Old World monkeys also tend to have longer lifespans.
Another factor is their genetics. Like us, monkeys can develop illnesses, mutations, and fatal diseases.
Still, the monkeys’ biggest threat is humans.
Today, 60% of non-human primates face the threat of extinction. Over 70% of primates across Asia alone are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. 75% of primate species are facing declining populations.
Unless conservation becomes a priority worldwide, many of these species will become extinct.
The expansion of the human population is the main problem facing primates. Primates are rapidly losing their habitats due to expansion, logging, and agriculture. About 5 billion humans live close to non-human primates, and we are driving them out.
Hunting and the illegal pet trade are other human-caused threats facing these animals. Hunting is an incredible concern in some areas. Russell A. Mittermeier, president of CI says, “In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten into extinction.”
Not to mention climate change which is exacerbated by human activity. The burning and clearing of rainforests serve as the main form of habitat loss. This burning is also responsible for over 20% of greenhouse gases.
Primates are the closest relatives to humankind. The fact that we won’t protect a species so much like our own clearly shows how much danger we pose to the rest of the world.
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Are monkeys and apes the same?
Monkeys and apes are primates with common features, but they are not the same.
The easiest way to tell monkeys and apes apart is the presence or absence of a tail. Apes do not have tails, while monkeys have long, flexible tails.
Their skeletal structures also differ.
Apes have a larger body structure and can walk in an upright posture. An ape’s arms are longer than its legs, and its shoulders are strong and flexible. Their arms can straighten at the elbow, and their wrists and forearms are very flexible.
Monkeys are unable to walk in an upright position. Instead, they move on all fours. Their shoulders are smaller and more narrow. They cannot fully straighten their arms, and their wrists are less flexible.
How long is an ape’s lifespan?
Apes also differ from monkeys in that they tend to live longer lives. Some chimpanzees and great apes have lived for over 50 years. In rare cases, apes have been known to live even longer than this, rivaling humans.
Little Mama was a chimpanzee who lived at Lion Country Safari theme park in Loxahatchee, Florida. She died at the ripe old age of 79 in November of 2017.
How old is the oldest monkey alive?
There doesn’t appear to be a record of the oldest monkey in the world. But, a few individuals are incredibly old for their species.
Elvis is a spider monkey who lives at Zoo Boise in Idaho. Most spider monkeys live somewhere between 20-40 years of age. But Elvis is an old monkey. He just celebrated his 60th birthday on July 6th, 2022.
Isoko, the world’s oldest rhesus monkey, died at the Kyoto zoo on September 12th, 2021. The average lifespan of a rhesus macaque is 15 years in the wild. They usually reach a maximum of 30 years in captivity. Isoko died at the old age of 43.
Do monkeys age like humans?
Studies show that non-human primates age similarly to humans. We share similar rates of aging as well as a similar gender gap concerning mortality.
Most mammals begin dying after they pass their reproductive prime. For humans and other primates, this would be about middle age. But primates can live well past their reproductive “prime.”
The study also showed that male non-human primates die sooner than females.