1. The word primate means "first rank."
2. There are two major suborders of primates. Until recently, "naturalists divided primates into prosimians (lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers) and simians (monkeys, apes and human beings). Today, though, the more widely accepted split is between "strepsirrhini" (wet-nosed) and "haplorhini" (dry-nosed) primates; the former includes all the non-tarsier promisimians and the latter consists of tarsiers and simians. Simians themselves are divided into two major groups: old world monkeys and apes ("catarrhines," meaning "narrow-nosed") and new world monkeys ("platyrhines," meaning "flat-nosed"). Technically, therefore, all human beings are haplorhine catarrhines, dry-nosed, narrow-nosed primates. Confused yet? I know I am!
3. Primates have bigger brains than other mammals. Why do primates need bigger brains? To process the information required to effectively employ (depending on the species) their opposable thumbs, prehensile tails, and sharp, binocular vision. And you thought they were just another pretty face....
4. The first primates evolved at the end of the Mesozoic Era. There are some paleontologists who dispute this, but the fact is that primates have been around for a very long time.
5. Primates have very social animals. Perhaps because they rely more on their brains than on their claws or teeth, most primates tend to seek the protection of extended communities, including male- or female-dominated clans, monogamous pairs of males and females, and even nuclear families (mom, dad, a couple of kids) unnervingly similar to those of humans. But not all primates are sweetness and light. A few can be murderous, bullying thugs!
6. Primates are capable of using tools. If you remember the opening scene of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, it showed a primate learning to use a tool for the first time. "More primates use more tools than any other type of animal, employing sticks, stones, and leaves for various complicated tasks (such as cleaning their ears and scraping dirt from their toenails)." Really, scraping dirt from their toenails? Who knew?
7. Primates develop at a slower rate than other mammals. "Bigger brains are both a blessing and a curse: they ultimately aid in reproduction, but they also require an extended amount of time to "break in." Newborn primates, with their immature brains, would be unable to survive without the help of one or both parents, or the extended clan, over the course of months or years. Also, like humans, most primates give birth to only one newborn at a time, which entails a larger investment of parental resources."
8. Most primates are omnivorous. "One of the things that make primates so widely adaptable is that most species (including great apes, chimpanzees, and human beings) are omnivorous, feasting opportunistically on fruits, leaves, insects, small lizards, and even the occasional mammal. That said, tarsiers are the only primates to be entirely carnivorous, and some lemurs, howler monkeys and marmosets are devoted vegetarians."
9. Primates tend to be sexually dimorphic. It's not a hard and fast rule, by any means, but many primate species (and most species of old world monkeys and apes) exhibit sexual dimorphism—the tendency for males to be bigger, nastier, and more dangerous than females. The males of some species even have different colored fur and larger teeth.
10. Some primate species have yet to be discovered. Of all the orders of mammals on earth, you'd think that primates would be the best accounted for: "after all, they're far from microscopic in size, and most human naturalists have a special interest in tracking the comings and goings of our closest relatives. But believe it or not, it is thought that there are still a few species of primates that humans have yet to be discovered! But given the predilection of smaller primates for dense, remote rain jungles, scientists only fooling themselves if they think they've collected them all. As recently as 2001, for example, there were 350 identified primate species; today there are about 450, meaning that about a half-dozen new species are discovered every year, on average." That's one pretty incredible fact!
That does it for my primate lesson today. How many of these facts were new to you? I honestly have to say that almost all of them were new to me. If you enjoyed this blog, I know you'll want to hop back by tomorrow for a look at the best (and worst) fathers in the animal kingdom. This will be my salute to all dads on this upcoming Fathers Day weekend. Until tomorrow, I wish you all