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apes and monkeys

November 22, 2014

There’s a poster on the Underground just now for the film rental company Fresh, advertising Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the tagline is “So fresh, the actors are still finding monkey hairs in their macchiatos.”

But… the film’s about apes, right? So where do the monkey hairs come from?

This confusion between apes and monkeys is long-standing but still annoying. I’ve often heard the theory of evolution by natural selection described by ignorant non-believers as the creed that we all ‘come from monkeys’. No: our nearest distinct ancestor, grandparent of ourselves and chimpanzees, was an ape, not a monkey. (Of course we are related to monkeys, but not quite as closely.)

Apes are usually much bigger than monkeys, for one thing. Also monkeys have hairy faces, while ape-faces are smoother. But there’s a simpler and more obvious difference. Monkeys have tails, apes don’t. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans – and we – are apes. No tails. Capuchins, marmosets, tamarins are monkeys. Tails. The children’s picturebook Curious George is supposedly about a monkey, but he doesn’t have a tail, so I think he might be a baby chimp.

…Er… OK, I’ve just been googling apes and monkeys and have discovered that some monkeys – eg. some species of macaque – do not have tails, or only have vestigial tails. So it is not quite as simple as I thought. Nevertheless, apes and monkeys are not the same; and the creatures in Planet of the Apes are apes, not monkeys. All right?

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One Comment
  1. They’re unlikely to even find ape hairs, considering all the apes in the film were created via digital motion capture. But Planet of the Apes doesn’t help much, being a French novel, where “singe” means ape AND monkey! Earlier translations had the decidedly less cool title Monkey Planet.

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