A Primer on Primates

The Hebrew word for “righteous” is symbolised by an Adam (human being) who has encapsulated, harnessed, and gained control over, their monkey. Not that we have evolved from monkeys—on the contrary, we “devolve” into behaving like one if we lose touch with HaShem.

Here are three Hebrew words:

  • Tsaddiq means righteousness (and has also come to mean charity)
  • Adam means man
  • Kohf in Hebrew means monkey

As a child I was blissfully oblivious to any difference between various primate. Oblivious to the characteristic of a chimp, a monkey, gorilla, and orang-utan, all where more-or-less bunched (not unlike bananas) in my mind as one. But they are different: some have tails and others do not; some live predominantly in trees and others do not; some are big and cumbersome while others can fit in the palm of your hand.

Although primates share common characteristics, they vary greatly — especially from prosimian to monkey to ape. Not all hairy primates are monkeys. I promised to explore the basic type and fundamental difference within this catch-all group of hairy ‘primitive humanoid’.

Primates are any (order of) mammals characterized especially by advanced development of binocular and coloured vision (with forward facing eyes), specialization of the appendages for grasping (five-fingered hands with an opposing thumb), and enlargement of the cerebral hemispheres. They are said to include humans as well as apes, monkeys, and related forms such as lemurs and tarsiers.

Essentially, all 350 specie of primate are either APE —Great and Small— or MONKEY. They range in size from a one-ounce pygmy mouse lemur to gorillas upwards of 600 pounds. Most live in the tropics or subtropics and depend on forests for their survival. Various classifications avail, but this division into monkeys and apes is by far the most useful.


The Prosimian is the most ancestral primate group (pro meaning before, and simian, monkey) and generally include the smallest of specie that are mostly nocturnal and many of which have an external tail, such as the lemur (more about this quixotic animal later). Other lesser-known Prosimian include the lorise —of which an apparent slow venomous specie has just been uncovered— and the so-called bushbaby (or galago).

The more than 200 specie of Simian are either Old World (Africa and Asia) or New World (South and Central America) monkeys. The New World monkeys include the tamarin and marmoset. A separate monkey specie is the tarsier of southeast Asia.

The Lesser Apes include the gibbon, a group of 12 species which exhibit many of the general characteristics of primates: flat faces, stereoscopic vision, enlarged brain size, grasping hands and feet, and opposable digits; but many specific characteristics of apes – a broad chest, full shoulder rotation, no tail, and arms longer than legs.


The Greater Apes include 14 species amongst which are the gorilla, bonobo, and chimpanzee of Africa, and the orang-utan and gibbon of Southeast Asia. Humans are also classified with the Great Apes*.

The distinguishing features then of the two main groups of primates are:


  • smaller in size
  • arm length equal/less than leg length
  • limited shoulder rotation
  • diurnal (active during the day)
  • chest deeper than broad
  • most have visible tails
  • nails on all digits (except marmosets and tamarins)
  • dry nose, lack snout, weak sense of smell
  • (large teeth may extend the snout)


  • larger in size (except gibbons)
  • arms longer than legs
  • full shoulder rotation
  • diurnal
  • broad chest
  • no tails
  • nails on all digits
  • dry nose, lack snout, weak sense of smell
  • lack of hair on face

The key defining characteristic of man from lower animals such as primates (excluding homo sapiens from this uneasy classification) is not so much intelligence (although that is a an important difference) and the ability to reason, but the main difference between man and monkey is man’s ability (and want) to know God.

Are atheists monkeys? No—they’re just spiritually devolved.


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and of them was the whole earth overspread.