In the entire animal kingdom, we humans have no closer cousin than the apes. In fact, we are apes and, as a result, learning more about our closest primate relatives can be an exciting and enriching experience.
If you’ve ever wanted to do a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details of all the different types of apes that walk our planet, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the 26 different types of apes, including the 8 types of great apes and 16 types of lesser apes.
As an added bonus, we’ll also discuss how apes are classified and answer some of your most frequently asked questions about these wonderful primates. That way, you can show your friends and family that you’re not monkeying around with your encyclopedic ape knowledge.
Let’s get started!
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What Is An Ape?
Before we can talk about the 26 different types of apes, we should first define what an ape is.
Simply put, an ape is a type of primate. Now, that definition might not be very helpful, as monkeys, like baboons and macaques, are also a type of primate.
However, apes are distinguished from other primates, including the other types of monkeys, by the fact that they do not have a tail and by the fact that the majority of them are quite large.
From a scientific standpoint, we can classify all species within the superfamily Hominoidea as apes. This includes both the family Hylobatidae, which are the lesser apes (gibbons), and the family Hominidae, which are the great apes (hominids).
8 Incredible Types of Great Apes
The first 8 types of apes that we’ll talk about are the great apes. All of these species belong to the family Hominidae, which contains 8 living species in 4 genera.
All of the great apes, except for humans, are found solely on the continents of Africa or Asia. Furthermore, all of the great apes, with the exception of humans, are considered to be endangered or threatened species.
Here’s what you need to know about the 8 types of great apes:
1. Genus Pongo
The first great apes on our list are members of the genus Pongo, which includes all of the orangutans. Orangutans are large apes that are known for their long, orange-colored hair. They spend more time in the trees than the other great apes, though they are only found in Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Currently, there are only three extant (living) species of orangutan, all of which are considered to be critically endangered.
1.1 Bornean Orangutan
Aptly named, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is an orangutan species found only on the island of Borneo.
Out of all of the orangutan species, the Bornean orangutan is considered to be the largest of the three. Indeed, it is actually the second-largest of the great apes after the gorilla as it is generally larger than most adult humans in terms of weight.
Bornean orangutans prefer to live in rainforest environments where they can find their preferred diet of figs, leaves, seeds, honey, flowers, and even eggs. They can live about 35 to 40 years in the wild and potentially up to about 60 years in captivity.
1.2 Sumatran Orangutan
Found only on the northernmost part of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is a large, critically endangered great ape.
When compared to the Bornean orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan shows much more sexual dimorphism. Indeed, the males can grow to be nearly twice as large as the females in this species. Furthermore, the Sumatran orangutans tend to be lighter than their Bornean counterparts, though they often have a much larger face.
The Sumatran orangutan prefers to keep a diet that’s mostly made of fruit and insects. However, like the Bornean orangutan, these primates will also eat bird eggs when necessary. What’s more, these super intelligent apes have also been seen using tools in the wild, particularly when it comes to using sticks to dig up termite holes or rocks for opening fruits and nuts.
1.3 Tapanuli Orangutan
The third and final living orangutan species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) is found only on the north-central part of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Interestingly, researchers did not realize that this was a separate orangutan species until 2017 as it was believed to simply be an isolated population of the Bornean orangutan.
That being said, the Tapanuli orangutan more closely resembles its Bornean cousins in terms of its smaller face size even though they share some of the body build and fur color characteristics of the Sumatran species.
Unfortunately, there are only about 800 individuals of this species left in the wild, which makes it the rarest of the great ape species. This is mostly a result of habitat loss and fragmentation—two issues that affect nearly all of the great apes.
2. Genus Gorilla
The largest of the great apes in terms of average weight, the genus Gorilla contains all of the apes that are commonly known as the gorillas. These apes are mostly ground dwellers and they are found only in the tropical forests of central Africa.
Gorillas are some of our closest cousins as it’s believed that we share about 98 percent of our DNA with these wonderful primates. There are currently only two living species of gorillas, both of which inhibit distinct areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
2.1 Eastern Gorilla
The rarer of the two gorilla subspecies, the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) is the world’s largest living primate. It lives only in the area of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both in lowland and mountain environments.
In fact, there are two recognized subspecies of the easter gorilla—the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. Both subspecies have large heads, broad chests, flat noses, and very long arms.
These gorillas like to eat primarily fruit, but they now mostly eat leaves and other foliage due to habitat loss. Furthermore, eastern gorillas live in large family groups of around 35 individuals that are led by a single dominant silverback male.
Like many primates, the eastern gorilla is critically endangered. It’s believed that there are less than about 6,000 individuals left in the wild. However, there is evidence that the mountain gorilla subspecies population is growing thanks to conservation efforts.
2.2 Western Gorilla
Found primarily in the swamps and lowlands of west-central Africa, the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) is the most populous of the gorilla species. These gorillas tend to be lighter in color with more of a greyish colored fur than their eastern cousins. They also tend to be slightly smaller.
Researchers have identified two primary subspecies of the western gorilla: the western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla.
The western lowland gorilla is by far the most populous of the two subspecies, with some estimates indicating that there are about 90,000 individuals in the wild. They live predominantly in montane forests and in swamplands in west-central Africa.
Alternatively, the Cross River gorilla is easily the least populous of all the gorilla subspecies. The Cross River gorilla is found only along the headwaters of the Cross River in the Nigeria-Cameroon border region. It’s believed that there are only about 250 adults left in the wild of this subspecies.
3. Genus Pan
Sometimes called the panins, the genus Pan is home to two extant species of great apes: the chimpanzee and the bonobo. Based on genetic testing, the chimpanzee and the bonobo are our closest animal relatives, though they are only found in sub-Saharan Africa.
Out of all of the non-human great apes, the two members of the genus Pan are the only apes to be listed as endangered, rather than critically endangered. Here’s what you need to know.
3.1 Common Chimpanzee
The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), or chimp, as it’s more commonly called, is a species of great ape that mostly lives in forested regions of tropical Africa. These apes are similar in size to small adult humans, though they are covered in thick black hair everywhere except their face, palms, and the bottoms of their feet.
Research shows that there are four subspecies of chimps, including the central chimpanzee, the western chimpanzee, the eastern chimpanzee, and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. There may also be a fifth subspecies—the southeastern chimpanzee—though this hasn’t yet been confirmed.
Chimpanzees are widely known to be one of the most intelligent of the primate species. They frequently use tools in the wild for gathering food and performing other tasks.
However, all chimp subspecies are listed as endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. Some people have also attempted to keep chimps as pets, but this is both illegal in many places and not recommended as they can be aggressive when kept in captivity.
Once considered to be a subspecies of chimpanzee, the bonobo (Pan paniscus) is the second of the two ape species in the genus Pan. In fact, it’s believed that the bonobo and the chimp diverged from the same species about 1.5 million to 2 million years ago after the formation of the Congo River.
While the bonobo and the chimp physically look quite similar, the bonobo is usually a bit slimmer and smaller. The bonobo is known to live both on the ground and in the trees, but it doesn’t seem to walk on only its hind legs as much as the chimpanzee.
The bonobo is currently listed as an endangered species and some researchers estimate that there are anywhere from 50,000 to 30,000 individuals left in the wild. These primates are at threat of habitat loss due to deforestation, though they have also traditionally been hunted for bushmeat.
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4. Genus Homo
Last but not least, the final of the four genera of great apes is the genus Homo. This genus contains just one extant species, the Homo sapiens, which is the scientific name for modern humans (that’s us!).
Let’s take a quick look at where we humans fit in within the great classification system of the great apes.
4.1 Modern Humans
Modern humans, which go by the scientific name Homo sapiens, are the only living member of the genus Homo.
Of course, there were many other species in this genus, though only we modern humans have survived. Some of the more notable extinct species in this genus include Homo neanderthalensis (neanderthals) and Homo erectus, the latter of which is believed to be one of the first human species to have looked a lot more like us than our ape cousins.
Interesting, modern humans (Homo sapiens) are the only great ape that isn’t endangered. With a total population of more than 7.9 billion as of 2021 (and counting!), the human population is substantially larger than that of any of our closest cousins.
Additionally, we humans are the only great ape species that lives on more than one continent as all the other species are restricted to either Asia or Africa.
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18 Wonderful Types of Lesser Apes
At this point, we’ve discussed the 4 genera and 8 species of great apes. But, what about the lesser apes, you might ask?
Luckily for you, we’ve got the lesser apes covered, too. In fact, the lesser apes include all of the members of the family Hylobatidae, which is divided up into 4 living genera and 18 total species.
Like the great apes, the lesser apes, which are usually called gibbons, are found only in certain parts of the world, namely in eastern and southeastern Asia. Furthermore, these species are also highly endangered, with some species being listed as critically endangered in their home range.
With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the 18 types of lesser apes:
1. Genus Hoolock
Commonly referred to as the hoolock gibbons, the genus Hoolock contains three extant primate species, all of which live in southeastern Asia. These primates are considered to be the second largest of all of the gibbons after the siamang (genus Symphalangus). There are three species of the hoolock gibbons, each of which has its own unique habitat and characteristics.
1.1 Western Hoolock Gibbon
The western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) is an endangered primate that lives in parts of northeastern India as well as parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar. These gibbons tend to live in the mid-layers of the rainforest canopy where they can feast on fruits, leaves, and shoots.
Additionally, the western hoolock gibbon is known for its elaborate vocalizations. It often vocalizes in a duet, but sometimes, an entire family will join in to create a song with an organized sequence, an event that’s truly a wonder to behold.
1.2 Eastern Hoolock Gibbon
Found mostly in the eastern part of Myanmar, the extreme eastern regions of India, and the southwestern part of the Chinese province of Yunnan, the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys) is a large primate that lives in the rainforest canopy.
These gibbons are known to be omnivorous as they enjoy a diet of fruits, invertebrates, eggs, and lichens. However, they particularly enjoy figs, which they can find throughout their home range.
Like most gibbon species, the eastern hoolock gibbon is endangered, mostly due to habitat loss and degradation. Additionally, these gibbons have been known to be preyed upon by large monitor lizards and even large eagles, which further threatened their population.
1.3 Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon
The Skywalker hoolock gibbon (Hoolock tianxing) is a relatively rare and little-researched gibbon found primarily in the Yunnan Province of China and in easter Myanmar. It was first described in academic literature in January 2017, so the species is not well understood.
Interestingly, the species’ common name, Skywalker, comes from Luke Sykwalker of the Star Wars franchise. If this seems to you to be an odd name for a gibbon, then you’re not alone. However, the scientists who first described the primate are big fans of Star Wars, so they named the gibbon after one of their favorite characters. Who knew?
2. Genus Hylobates
Originally considered to be the only genus of gibbons in the world, the genus Hylobates is a collection of lesser apes that’s commonly referred to as the forest walkers. Alongside the genus Nomascus, the genus Hylobates is the largest of the gibbon genera with a total of seven species.
The genus Hylobates is one of the most widespread of the gibbon genera as it contains species that live throughout southern and southeastern Asia. Plus, the bulk of these species have characteristic rings of white fur around their faces, which can help you distinguish them from other gibbons.
2.1 Lar Gibbon
The lar gibbon (Hylobates lar), or white-handed gibbon is one of the most commonly researched gibbons in the world. This primate lives throughout southeastern Asia as its habitat technically extends from southeastern China all the way to the island of Sumatra.
Interestingly, the lar gibbon can have a wide range of different fur colors, from nearly white to almost completely black. These gibbons are also considered to be true brachiators, which means that they mostly propel themselves by swinging off of tree branches.
Lar gibbons are one of the most common gibbon species to be found in captivity, however, they are considered to be endangered in the wild. They are often hunted for bushmeat and they are at threat of habitat loss due to deforestation.
2.2 Bornean White-Bearded Gibbon
Aptly named, the Bornean white-bearded gibbon (Hylobates albibarbis) is a relatively small gibbon that’s found only on the island of Borneo. This gibbon, as its name suggests, often has a white beard marking on its face, however not much is known about this fairly isolated primate population.
We do know, however, that the Bornean white-bearded gibbon was once considered to be a subspecies of the agile gibbon, but DNA evidence now suggests that it should be a separate species.
2.3 Müller’s Gibbon
One of the relatively few gibbon species that doesn’t feature a wide spectrum of fur colorations, the Müller’s gibbon (Hylobates muelleri) is a rare and endangered primate that lives only on the island of Borneo. This gibbon usually has a grey or brown colored fur and it shows no sexual dimorphism in terms of its coloration.
Much of the species’ range is protected as part of multiple national parks, however, it is still at risk of habitat loss. It also overlaps very slightly in territory with the Bornean white-bearded gibbon, though the Müller’s gibbon mostly lives in the northern part of the island.
2.4 Silvery Gibbon
Sometimes called the Javan gibbon, the silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch) is a small gibbon that’s endemic to the island of Java. It prefers to live at relatively high elevation rainforests, though it’s believed that there are fewer than 2,500 adults left in the wild.
These gibbons, as their name suggests, have a mostly silvery to blueish-grey colored fur. They maintain relatively small territories and they tend to live in pairs with only one young at a time.
According to the IUCN, the silvery gibbon is one of the most endangered gibbon species, due both to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade. While there are a number of breeding programs and conservation efforts in place around the world, it’s unclear if the species will be able to survive.
2.5 Agile Gibbon
One of the most visually striking gibbons, the agile gibbon (Hylobates agilis), or black-handed gibbon, is a relatively large primate that lives in Malaysia, Thailand, and on the island of Sumatra.
It boasts a jet-black to red-brown coloration with a full white brow. The males also have white fur tufts on their cheeks, which helps them stand out in the rainforest where they tend to live.
The agile gibbon is currently endangered, mostly as a result of the illegal pet trade. They are also hunted for bushmeat and they are at risk of severe habitat loss due to local deforestation.
2.6 Pileated Gibbon
Making their home only in the rainforests of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, the pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) is an endangered primate that’s known for its shaggy hair. Furthermore, the pileated gibbon exhibits a unique type of sexual dimorphism where males boast completely black fur while females have a white-grey coloration.
Pileated gibbons are known for forming lifelong mating pairs that live together in the rainforest. They will fiercely defend their own territory from other mating pairs and individuals and they’re also known for creating low vocalizations when they feel threatened.
2.7 Kloss’s Gibbon
One of the most poorly understood gibbon species, the Kloss’s gibbon (Hylobates klossii), or Mentawai gibbon, is found only on the Mentawai Islands, which are located to the west of Sumatra.
In many ways, the Kloss’s gibbon resembles the siamang due to its mostly black fur. However, the Kloss’s gibbon tends to be much smaller and it doesn’t have the characteristic throat pouch that’s found on the siamang.
Like some other gibbons, the Kloss’s gibbon does sign. Indeed, this species of gibbon is thought to have one of the most beautiful vocalizations, even though they generally don’t sign in duets like some other gibbons.
3. Genus Symphalangus
The smallest of the lesser ape genera, the genus Symphalangus is home to just one species: the siamang.
Technically speaking, siamangs are a type of gibbon, though they have a number of distinguishing features that warrant their classification in a different genus. The siamang also has one of the largest ranges of all the gibbons as it’s found throughout parts of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Here’s what you ought to know.
The siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) is a large gibbon that lives in the rainforests of southeastern Asia.
As we’ve previously mentioned, the siamang is a type of gibbon, though it is distinguished from its other cousins by the fact that it has two fused digits on each foot. Furthermore, the siamang has a characteristic gular sac (also known as a throat pouch) that can be inflated to a large size to help amplify calls and other sounds.
While the total number of siamangs in the world is not fully known, the primate is listed as endangered by the IUCN. It is particularly at risk of illegal trapping for the pet trade, and wide scale deforestation for the palm oil industry in its range has led to massive habitat loss.
4. Genus Nomascus
The fourth and final genus of lesser apes, the genus Nomascus is a collection of seven gibbon species. Until fairly recently, all of these species were thought to be part of the genus Hylobates, however, new research shows that they are not as closely related as was previously thought.
Furthermore, all of the species in the genus Nomascus live in the northeasternmost sections of the gibbon’s range, particularly in southern China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This differentiates these species from other types of gibbons, which are mostly found to the southwest.
Let’s take a quick look at the seven species in this genus:
4.1 Northern Buffed-Cheeked Gibbon
A newly discovered species, the northern buffed-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus annamensis) is a lesser ape that’s found in the tropical forests of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It was first identified in the scientific literature in 2010, so relatively little is known about this primate.
We do know, however, that these gibbons tend to look a lot like the more common yellow-cheeked gibbon, though they are more likely to have golden-orange fur tufts on their cheeks. Other than that, more research is needed to fully understand this fascinating species.
4.2 Black Crested Gibbon
The black crested gibbon (Nomascus concolor) is a critically endangered primate that lives in northern Vietnam, as well as parts of southeastern China and Laos.
Like a few other gibbon species, the black crested gibbon exhibits what’s known as sexual dichromatism, where the males and females are different colors. In particular, the males tend to be almost completely black while the females will have a buff to golden coloration.
There is still some debate over how to classify the black crested gibbon, particularly because it’s believed that there are at least four subspecies of this primate. Regardless, there are fewer than about 2,000 individuals of this species left in the wild due to habitat loss and deforestation.
4.3 Eastern Black Crested Gibbon
Once considered to be extinct in the wild, the eastern black crested gibbon (Nomascus nasutus) is one of the world’s rarest primates. Indeed, there wasn’t a single confirmed sighting of the species from about the 1960s to the early 2000s, until a group of biologists spotted them in northern Vietnam.
Although it is taxonomically similar to other black crested gibbons, the eastern black crested gibbon was determined to be its own species based on genetic sequencing.
However, as of the early 2000s, it’s believed that there are less than 40 individuals of this species left in the wild, meaning that the species’ chances of survival are exceptionally small due to ongoing habitat loss.
4.4 Hainan Black Crested Gibbon
Found only on Hainan Island in southeastern China, the Hainan black crested gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) is a critically endangered gibbon that is on the brink of extinction.
While the species has been known to scientists since the late nineteenth century, it wasn’t actually considered to be a separate species from the eastern black crested gibbon until fairly recently.
Unfortunately, over the years, the species’ population has decreased dramatically from about 2,000 individuals in the 1950s to about 20 individuals as of 2014. Indeed, it is so rare that there are few verified photos of this gibbon. Much of the species’ decline can be attributed to habitat loss caused by illegal pulp paper plantations and logging.
4.5 Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon
Boasting a set of bright white fur tufts on its cheeks (males only), the northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) is a relatively small gibbon found in northern Laos and northern Vietnam.
This gibbon is closely related to the southern white-cheeked gibbon and it wasn’t considered to be a distinct spice until relatively recently. However, the species’ genome was sequenced in 2011, providing the necessary evidence that it is, indeed, a distinct type of ape.
There are currently just about 450 individual northern white-cheeked gibbons left in the wild, most of which live at high elevation regions. They also produce a highly complex song that includes calls and responses between males and females.
4.6 Southern White-Cheeked Gibbon
A close cousin of the northern white-cheeked gibbon, the southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki) is an endangered primate that lives mostly in central Vietnam and Laos.
Like its northern cousin, these gibbons exhibit sexual dimorphism where the males are all black in color and the females are mostly brown. However, the males have large white fur tufts on each cheek, which is how they got their name.
These gibbons love to hang out in the trees and eat fruit, however, much of their habitat has been lost in recent years due to human encroachment and logging. The species is actually legally protected in much of its range, but enforcement of these rules is difficult due to the power of the illegal pet trade.
4.7 Yellow-Cheeked Gibbon
Last, but certainly not least, the yellow-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus gabriellae) is a poorly understood primate species that lives in eastern Vietnam, as well as central Laos and Cambodia. It gets its Latin name from that of the British naturalist who first identified it, Gabrielle Maud Vassal, and its common name for the golden fur color found on the adult males of this species.
The yellow-cheeked gibbon is listed as endangered, though there is a population of about 1,000 individuals that lives in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia. There are also a number of breeding, conservation, and rehabilitation programs for this gibbon to help save the species from extinction.
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How Apes Are Classified
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The classification of apes is somewhat complex as the term “ape” is a colloquial one, not a scientific one.
That being said, all apes are members of the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Mammalia, and the order Primates. This means that apes are animals with spinal cords that also classify as mammals and, subsequently, primates.
Below the order Primates, things get a bit more complicated.
Primates are split up into two living suborders: Strepsirhini and Haplorhini. The suborder Strepsirrhini includes the lemurs and lorises, which are generally small, highly arboreal primates that live in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Meanwhile, the suborder Haplorhini includes the tarsiers and the simians.
The tarsiers belong to the infraorder Tarsiiformes, which includes smaller, tree-dwelling primates that are now only found in southeastern Asia. The simians, on the other hand, are members of the infraorder Simiiformes, which includes the New World monkeys, the Old World monkeys, and the apes.
Within the infraorder Simiiformes, there are two parvorders: Platyrrhini (New World monkeys) and Catarrhini (Old World monkeys and apes). Interestingly enough, the technical difference between New World monkeys and Old World monkeys/apes is the shape of their nose and nostrils.
The parvorder Catarrhini is split into Old World monkeys and apes. Although these species are closely related, the apes are generally considered to be both tailless and larger than their Old World monkey counterparts. All apes are also part of the superfamily Hominoidea while Old World monkeys are part of the superfamily Cercopithecoidea.
Finally, within the superfamily Hominoidea, the apes are split into two living families, the great apes (family Hominidae) and the lesser apes (Hylobatidae).
The great apes are larger and much more social than the lesser apes, though the classification of these species is actually based on genetic analysis. There are currently four living genera of great apes and eight living species.
On the other hand, the lesser apes are all found in the family Hylobatidae and they are generally called gibbons. There are approximately four genera and sixteen species of gibbon, all of which are highly arboreal and are smaller than the great apes.
So, there you have it. Long story short, the apes are all classified within the superfamily Hominoidea, which we can then divide up into different types of apes. It’s as simple as that!
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Here are our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about apes:
Is An Ape A Type of Monkey?
Apes and monkeys are generally thought to be different things, but this really depends on who you ask. Apes and monkeys are all part of the infraorder Simiiformes, which branches off into the New World Monkeys and the Old World anthropoids. The Old World anthropoids contain the Old World Monkeys and the 26 species thought of as apes.
So, technically the name “monkey” usually refers to members of the New World and Old World monkeys. As a result, this definition excludes the apes, though apes and monkeys are closely related.
What Is The Difference Between Great Apes And Lesser Apes?
Great apes and lesser apes both belong to the same superfamily. However, the term “great apes” is used to refer to the species in the family Hominidae, which includes the largest primates, such as the orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos. Meanwhile, “lesser apes” refers to the gibbons, which are usually smaller and spend most of their life in the trees.
Are Humans And Apes Related?
Humans and apes are very closely related. In fact, humans are apes as they are members of the superfamily Hominidae, which includes non-human apes, like chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas.