monkeysHow similar are humans and apes?

As much as we like to think of ourselves as superior, humans are animals. We descend from a common human ancestor shared with what became chimpanzees and bonobos 6 to 8 million years ago. Although we’ve evolved since then, we’re still 98.8 percent the same as chimpanzees and bonobos. Humans and apes are so alike that documenting our similarities is much easier than listing our few differences.

Shared use of tools

According toStephanie Poindexter, a primatologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the more we look at apes and humans, the more we discover that we are largely the same. Tool use is one of the most obvious indications. “We used to think that the ability to manipulate the environment was uniquely human, and now we know that chimpanzees use all kinds of tools,” she says.

Capuchin monkeys

(Credit: Ondrej Prositsky/Shutterstock)

Capuchin monkeys are also known to use tools. An August 2018 study published in Royal Society of Sciencedocumented tool use in a population of white-faced capuchins in Coiba National Park, Panama. “We found that capuchins commonly use stone tools to open a variety of food resources, including hermit crabs and Halloween crabs,” the study authors wrote. The researchers also found that capuchins use coconuts to eat sea snails.

But while many primates have learned ways to manipulate their environment, Poindexter says, humans have a much more extensive “built environment” full of man-made structures.

Read more: 7 Animals That Use Tools in Innovative Ways

Primates living in pairs

Humans are also “pair primates,” meaning we tend to mate and have children. But we are far from alone in this social structure.

Titi Monkeys

(Credit: Quincy Floyd/Shutterstock)

Titus monkeys, owl monkeys, tamarins and gibbons are characterized by a social system of living in pairs. However, Poindexter says that doesn’t necessarily mean we mate for life.

“I would say that humans are not a monogamous species,” she says.

Like humans, among titi monkeys only a very small percentage of humans have one partner with whom they remain throughout their lives. And only around3 to 5 percent of titi monkeysmate for life. Like humans, they can become upset with each other and break up, often finding another partner.

Read more: Female monkeys live longer if they have a social life

Social Structures of Nuclear Fission

Monkeys, like humans, make friends and communicate. This means they are better friends with certain members of their group. In primate language, Poindexter says, this is called “split-merge,” meaning you can be in a large community, but you can split into smaller groups.

Monkeys do all sorts of social networking and don’t like everyone in the group equally. “I would absolutely say that other primates have friendships and preferences about who they want to spend time with,” she says.


(Credit: ANDREY GUDCOV/Shutterstock)

This also applies to bonobos, who are considered the most emotionally similar to humans. In a study published in the October 2018 issue of Structure and function of the brain, researchers found that bonobo brains are more emotionally similar to humans than to chimpanzees. Bonobos share much of our social-emotional understanding, even compared to other primates.

Read more: Bonobos act like babies after fights

Apes vs. Humans: Language

One of the few differences between humans and apes is in the form of language. While all primates communicate, they don’t have language, Poindexter says. In the animal kingdom, “there is nothing like human language and especially its diversity around the world,” she says.

Vervet Monkeys

(Credit: Amelandfoto/Shutterstock)

However, this does not mean that other species do not have complexity in the way they communicate. Vervet monkeys, for example, have a call that sends everyone up into the canopy and another call that sends everyone down the canopy. It probably has to do with avoiding aerial predators versus ground predators. “Even though they may not have language in the same sense, there is still meaning and complexity in their vocalizations,” she says.

People are like monkeys

As much as we’d like to think that humans are far more advanced than other primates alive today, we’re finding that we’re more alike than we ever thought possible. It seems that every time we invent something that is “uniquely human,” Poindexter says, we find another primate capable of doing the same.

Read more: Are chimpanzees capable of empathy?

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