Monkeys are primates, like apes, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans! Do monkeys live as long as humans? Are monkeys the same as apes and gorillas? Since primates have few predators do they mostly live out their lives and die of old age? Let’s find out about the lifespan of monkeys.
Monkeys vs. Apes
Are monkeys the same as apes? No! They are all primates but there are clear differences between monkeys and apes. Apes include gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutan, gibbon, bonobos and humans! Monkeys include baboons, Japanese macaques, spider monkeys, and capuchins. How can you tell them apart? The main way to remember is that monkeys have tails, apes don’t. Monkeys are smaller, have a narrower chest and move with all four limbs. Apes are bigger, have a broad chest and can walk upright although they get around with all their limbs as well. There are also only a few kinds of apes and there are hundreds of monkey species.
How Long Do Monkeys Live: Old World vs. New World
Monkeys are broken down into two sub-categories; Old World and New World. Old World monkeys are found in Africa and Asia whereas New World monkeys are found in Central and South America. Besides the location the two kinds of monkeys live in different habitats. Old World monkeys live primarily on the ground and New World monkeys live mostly in trees. New World monkeys have a prehensile tail, meaning they can grasp and hold things with it. They can hang upside down by their tails if they want! This makes tree life a good fit. If you are looking at a monkey and are not sure what kind it is look at their noses. Old World monkeys have downward facing nostrils (like humans) whereas New World monkeys have broader noses with the nostrils facing outward. With more than 260 species of monkeys there is going to be some variation in lifestyle and lifespans, but let’s look closer at a few monkeys you may be familiar with.
Old World Monkey Lifespans
Monkeys can live up to 40 years in the wild, with baboons being the longest living monkey species. However, monkey lifespans among species range from 10 to 40 years.
- Baboons: Lifespan 35-40 years
Baboons are the largest monkey species and one that lives the longest. There are five different baboon species with most of them living on savannas. They are social animals and live in family groups of up to a few hundred animals. Baboons spend some time as a large group and other times they break apart and spend time in smaller groups. They can be very vocal and work together to ward off predators.
- Japanese Macaques: Lifespan 22-27 years
The Japanese Macaques are furry, pink-faced monkeys that live in Japan and are often called snow monkeys. They congregate around hot springs in the snowy mountains and you may have seen pictures of these monkeys with snow in their fur. They can live from 22- 27 years.
- Gabon Talapoins: Lifespan 28 years in captivity, Unknown in the wild
These monkeys are the smallest of the Old World monkeys standing only about a foot tall. The males can get to be 13 inches and weigh around 3 lbs. They are sometimes referred to as swamp monkeys because they live by water (near rivers, streams or swamps). Although it is unknown how long they live in the wild it would be fair to estimate that there are a lot more predators that could prey on this small monkey especially crocodiles and alligators and other animals that frequent swamps. They have been recorded to live 28 years in captivity.
New World Monkeys Lifespans
- Spider Monkeys: Lifespan 25 years
Spider Monkeys are black monkeys with long arms and legs. They are very agile and can hop from branch to branch with ease. This kind of monkey is a popular monkey in zoos and has been found to fair quite well in a zoo setting where they can live up to 40 years. In the wild their lifespan is closer to 25 years depending on scarcity of food and predation. Living in the trees makes them susceptible prey to eagles and other large birds of prey.
- Capuchins: Lifespan 15-25 years in the wild, 35-40 as pets
These little monkeys are found in countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador and Columbia. They live in the tropical forest in the trees using their long tails to grab onto tree limbs. To avoid predators like tree boas or jaguars they will signal each other with their calls to advise each other to climb higher into the branches. Because they are only 5-8 lbs they can climb out of the reach of larger predators. Their average lifespan in the wild is 15-25 years. Due to the popularity of this animal on TV shows and movies (like Friends and Pirates of the Caribbean) these monkeys have become an exotic pet, but they are a social animals and live in family groups of 18 to 20 monkeys. This is difficult to replicate when you have them as pets so they seem to get bored and may act aggressively after a few years. In captivity they can live up to 45-50, but as pets they usually live between 35-40 years.
- Tamarin: Lifespan 10-15 years
Three kinds of tamarin you may be familiar with are the cotton-topped tamarin, golden lion tamarin and the emperor tamarin. They all have distinct hair-dos! The cotton-top looks like the troll dolls that you shake and make their hair stand on end. The golden lion tamarin looks like it has an orange lion mane around its face, but they are nowhere near as fierce due to the fact they are about the size of a squirrel. Emperor tamarins are blackish-brown and have a very distinct white mustache which is where they get their name because it looks like that of the German emperor Wilhelm II. Tamarins have a lifespan between 10-15 years.
The golden lion tamarin was near extinction for years but has been upgraded to endangered. According to the IUCN, “Today, the most severe threats facing this species are the urbanization of former forests and pastureland, and expanding road network.” Conservation efforts have helped save the golden lion tamarin but there are still only a recorded 3,600 in the wild so there is still work to be done.
Monkeys vs. Human Lifespans
Monkeys have a lifespan that varies according to species with a range of 10 years for the golden lion tamarin to 50 years for a captive capuchin. What about humans? Our lifespans can vary greatly as well based on gender, lifestyle and genetic predispositions. In 2020 the CDC listed the life expectancy at birth for males to be 75.1 and for females to be 80.5, so longer than both monkeys and apes (chimpanzees, for example, have a life expectancy of 60 years). Humans may be the longest living primate but we also have a responsibility to make sure that our fellow primates are given the opportunity to live out their lives to the fullest as well!