Primate Fact File

Order: Primates

Primates are a groups of mammals which live in complex social groups and, for the most part, live in the trees.

Three main groups are recognized - apes, monkeys and prosimians.

Roughly 350-400 species of primate are currently recognized based on the authority referenced.

For the most part primates are social and form large groups. They have complex social hierarchies. A few primates go against this general rule with the most prominent being the orangutans which are solitary for almost their entire life. Some species of lemur and galago are also solitary.

Primates are adapted for a life in the trees and are one of the few groups of animals to possess an opposable grip. This means that their thumb is separated from the other fingers.

Humans are the only species of primates which do not have the big toe separated from the other toes. This allows them to grip on to branches as they move through the trees.

Some species are further assisted to move through the trees by a prehensile tail which can wrap around branches and hold them. This is not true for all species though.

common marmoset altina

A Common Marmoset (Callithrix jacchus)

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Primates are highly intelligent and have one of the largest brain to body sized ratios of all mammals beaten only by some species of toothed whale species.

The eyes of primates are built to point forward. This gives the the ability to judge the distances they are about to cover by jumping or climbing. Vision has become the more important sense for most primates. This is in conflict to most other mammals which rely on smell.

Humans are placed within the ape group of primates. We share 96% of our DNA with the most distant relatives and as much as 99% with species such as bonobos and chimpanzees.

Primates are most commonly found in tropical forest areas though some survive in temperate forests and other habitats.

Many species of primate are threatened by extinction. They have commonly been used in laboratory research especially due to their close relation to humans. Habitat loss is another major threat to their survival.

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Record Breakers

World's largest Primate

The world's largest species of primate is the Eastern lowland gorilla or Grauer's Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) they reach a length of up to 2m (6ft) with a weight of up to 250kg (551lbs).

World's smallest Primate

The world's smallest species of primate is Madame Berthe's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) with a body length of  9–9.5cm (3.5–3.7in) and a weight of 30.6g (1.1oz).

sumatran orangutan

A Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

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Primate Groups - 3 main groups

Primates are broken down in to three major groups. These are the apes, monkeys and prosimians.

Sumatran orangutan


Apes are separated from monkeys based on their lack of a tail.

They are broadly broken down in to two groups, lesser apes and great apes.

Great apes are among the most recognized primates with five main groups, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans.

Lesser apes are known as gibbons and live in Asia.

Apes are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

Currently 21 species of ape are recognized.

white-faced saki monkey


Monkeys are a large, diverse group of primates which includes around 270 species.

These animals are broadly split in to two groups, the new world monkeys are found in South and Central America. Old world monkeys live in Asia, Africa and Europe.

All species of monkey are excellent climbers and spend part of their life in the trees.

They primarily live in forests.

Ring-tailed Lemur


Prosimians are among the most primitive species of primate.

The most well know members of this group are the lemurs found on Madagascar off the coast of Africa. It also includes the galagos and potoos of Africa and the tarsiers of Asia.

90 species of these primates exist with 7 families.


A White Fronted Lemur (Eulemur albifrons)

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Species Profiles - A detailed fact file on some of the world's Primate species

This is a small selection of the primates which we feature on our website. If you can't find one you're looking for use the search bar in the top corner to see if we feature the one you're looking for.

Great Apes

Lesser Apes




Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK 2021. Grauer’s gorilla | Fauna & Flora International. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 July 2021].

American Museum of Natural History. 2021. What Do Primates Have in Common? Humans & Our Cousins | AMNH. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 July 2021].

Myers, P. 2000. "Primates" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 26, 2021 at 2021. Primates Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 July 2021].

Guinness World Records. 2021. Smallest primate. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 July 2021].

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