Why Only Some Monkeys Have Awesome Tails
Almost all mammals with prehensile tails live in the neotropics because the forest is different there.
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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Script Editor: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
Video Illustrator: Ever Salazar (@eversalazar)
Video Director: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
Video Narrator: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Alex Reich, Emily Elert, Peter Reich
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:
Image Credits: Spider Monkey – Wikimedia user Petruss
Capuchin Monkey – Steve Jurvetson
Guianan Saki – Wikimedia user Skyscraper
Emperor Tamarin – TheBrockenInaGlory
Aotus nigriceps – Wikimedia user Miguelrangeljr
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FYI: We try to leave jargon out of our videos, but if you want to learn more about this topic, here are some handy keywords to get your googling started:
Prehensile Tail: An animal tail that can grasp or hold objects. A wide range of animals have prehensile tails, including mammals (like opossums and kinkajous), reptiles (like chameleons), amphibians (like salamanders), and fish (seahorses).
Old World Monkeys (Cercopithecidae): A family of primates native to Africa and Asia that includes baboons, guenons and macaques – all of which have non-prehensile tails.
New World Monkeys (Platyrrhini): A family of primates native to Central and South America that includes spider monkeys, howlers, and capuchins – all of which have prehensile tails.
Prehensile tails evolved twice in new world monkeys: In atelines (spider monkey and howlers) the prehensile tail tip is like a finger and incredibly dextrous. In cebines (capuchin monkeys) the tip is furry and not quite as dextrous.
Species featured in this video:
– Spider Monkey (and Diddy Kong!)
– Ficus insipida (tripical fig tree)
– Barbary Macaque (from Northern Africa)
– Rhesus Macaque(from India)
– Salamander (Aneides lugubris)
– Seahorses (actually Horsea!)
Glander, K. (2016). Personal Communication
Organ, J. (2016). Personal Communication
Emmons, L.H., Gentry, A.H. (1983). Tropical Forest Structure and the Distribution of Gliding and Prehensile-Tailed Vertebrates. The American Naturalist 121-4 (513-524). Retrieved from
Lambert, T., Halsey, M. (2015) Relationship Between Lianas and Arboreal Mammals: Examining the Emmons–Gentry Hypothesis. Ecology of Lianas (398-406).. Retrieved from:
Deane, A., Russo, G., Muchlinski, M., Organ, J. (2014). Caudal Vertebral Body Articular Surface Morphology Correlates With Functional Tail Use in Anthropoid Primates. Journal of Morphology 275 (1300-1311). Retrieved from