Cercopithecidae – Baboons & macaques

Some of the Old World monkeys have perfected the art of a New World urban living

This family, commonly referred to as Old World monkeys, includes a wide array of genera and species that inhabit a variety of ecosystems across Africa, Asia, and some parts of Europe. The Cercopithecidae family is distinctive not only in its size but also in its evolutionary, morphological, and behavioral complexities.

One key characteristic that sets Cercopithecidae apart from apes (Hominidae) is the presence of a tail. However, unlike the prehensile tails found in many New World monkeys of the Americas, the tails of Old World monkeys are not capable of grasping or clinging, serving instead for balance and communication. This feature, among others, places them closer to apes genetically, though they maintain a distinct lineage that acts as a bridge between apes and New World monkeys.

Many species exhibit strikingly colored faces or other body parts, which can serve various purposes, including social signaling, mate attraction, and predator deterrence. This distinct individuality is not universal across all species, but where present, it adds to the group’s rich visual and behavioral tapestry.

Cercopithecidae primates are predominantly omnivorous, with dietary preferences that lean more towards herbivory. They exhibit remarkable dietary flexibility, consuming a wide range of foods from fruits, leaves, and flowers to insects and small animals. This adaptability allows them to thrive in diverse habitats and ecological niches.

A distinguishing feature of all Cercopithecidae species is the structure of their nostrils, which are closely spaced and point downward. This morphological trait sets them apart from other primate families and is a key characteristic used in their classification.

The evolutionary history of the Cercopithecidae family is rich and deep, with fossil records dating back millions of years. These records reveal the long-standing presence of Old World monkeys on the planet and provide insights into their adaptive radiations and the environmental changes that shaped their evolution.