Monkeys, along with Apes, Chimps and Gorillas, belong to the same order of Primates, that we humans belong to. Somewhere down the 85 million year evolutionary chain of primates, we have a common ancestor, which is incredible if you think about it. But do monkeys have much in common with us when it comes to the life they live? What is their lifespan? Do they live as long as humans and of not, how long do monkeys live?
How Long Do Monkeys Live?
In the wild, most monkeys can live between 10 – 45 years. Now this is quite a wide margin, but there are over 200 species of monkey, of various shapes and sizes, living in many different habitats. For individual species this margin is much narrower.
While there are many different species, monkeys can be categorised into two types, based on a geographical split. These are old world monkeys and new world monkeys. This is a bit of a dated, colonial terms but still serves to distinguish the geographical differences. New World monkeys are species that live in the Americas, and Old World Monkeys are native to Africa and Asia.
It’s not just geography that sets these two types apart, but some features based on their habitats too, and we will get to that below.
Old World Monkeys – (Family – Cercopithecidae)
The term ‘old world monkeys’ refers to the primate family known as Cercopithecidae. In this family there are two sub families – Cercopithecinae and Colobinae. Within these sub families there are 138 recognised species across 24 different genera.
Cercopithecidae are the largest family of primates in the world. They get the common name ‘old world monkeys’ because they live in the Eurocentric ‘old world’, spanning much of Africa and Asia. They were once widespread across Europe too, but are extinct in the wild there now, with exception to Gibraltar.
In general, old world monkeys can live, on average, between 20 to 45 years old, longer than their new world cousins. This does change from species to species but never much outside the margins. The family of new world monkeys includes:
While there are a great many species of old world monkeys, here are some of the most recognisable:
- Preuss’s Monkey – They live terrestrially in mountainous forests up to 2500 metres of eastern Nigeria, western Cameroon and Bioko in Equatorial Guinea. The Preuss’s monkey has a life span of around 31 years.
- Allen’s Swamp Monkeys – These monkey can be found in the Congo basin, in the Republic of Congo and in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They average 23 years in the wild, longer in captivity.
- De Brazza’s Monkey – This is an Old World monkey that was named by French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. Generally known as ‘swamp monkeys‘, they are often found in wetlands in central Africa. They can live to around 33 years on average.
- Greater Spot-Nosed Monkeys – These are the smallest monkeys from the Old World group of primates. At least 3 different guenon species have spots on their noses, the Greater Spot-nosed, Lesser Spot-nosed and the Red-tailed guenon. Like most old world monkeys, they have an average lifespan of 20-25 years.
- Grivet monkeys – This species are found only in sub-Saharan Africa. Their range extends from Senegal and Ethiopia down to South Africa. They live to around 30 years old on average.
- Macaque Monkeys – There are several species of Macaque monkeys in the genus Macaca. Across the species, the range extends from Africa, across India and Indonesia to South East Asia and Japan. The Japanese Macaque is very smart and is the only animal other than humans and raccoons that is known to wash its food before eating it. Across this Genus, the Macaque monkeys tend to live about 20 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.
- Old World Gold, Silver and Blue Monkeys live between 20-25 years on average.
- The Guinea Baboon of the genus papio is the monkey that has the greatest average lifespan, between 35-45 years of age. Baboons not only live the longest, but they are the largest type of monkeys too.
New World Monkeys ( Five Families – Callitrichidae, Cebidae, Aotidae, Pitheciidae, Atelidae)
The term New World Monkey, refers to the five different families of monkey that live in the Americas, particularly the tropical regions of Central and South America, including Mexico. According to one table of classification in the journal nature, Across the 5 families of new world money, there are 6 subfamilies, 20 genera and 157 species. This data not absolute however, as the exact taxonomy of these monkeys is still widely debated for many species.
New World Monkeys, in general do not live as long as their old world cousins. They tend to live between 10 to 35 years in the wild, but again this varies between species.
Most New world monkeys have long, often prehensile tails. Many are small, arboreal and nocturnal, so our knowledge of them is less comprehensive than that of the more easily observed Old World monkeys.
The five different families of new wold monkey include:
- Callitrichidae: This family includes marmosets and tamarin monkeys.
- Cebidae: This family includes capuchins and squirrel monkeys.
- Aotidae: This family includes night monkeys/ owl monkeys.
- Pitheciidae: This family includes titis, sakis, and uakari monkeys.
- Atelidae: This family includes howler monkeys, spider monkeys, woolly spider monkeys, and woolly monkeys.
Here are some of the most recognisable species of new world monkey, and the lifespan they can achieve:
- Capuchin Monkeys – The range of the Capuchin Monkeys includes Central America (Honduras) and middle South America (middle Brazil, eastern Peru, Paraguay). They are considered the most intelligent New World monkeys. In captivity, individuals have reached an age of 45 years, although life expectancy in nature is only 15 to 25 years.
- Howler Monkeys – There are several species and subspecies of Howler monkey that live across Mexico, Central and Southern America. The Mantled Howler monkey, and it’s many known subspecies is perhaps the most widespread, and they live 15 to 20 years in the wild. Equally, the Black Howler Monkey of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay has a life span up to 20 years, however, more commonly 15 years in the wild.
- Saki Monkeys – These are New World monkeys of the genus Pithecia, and their range extends from the south of Colombia over Peru in northern Bolivia and into the central part of Brazil. Saki Monkeys life expectancy is up to 14 years.
- Squirrel Monkeys – These monkey have a range that extends from Costa Rica through central Brazil and Bolivia. Remarkably, the brain mass to body mass ratio for squirrel monkeys is 1:17 which gives them the largest brain, proportionately, of all the primates, including humans. Squirrel monkeys live to about 15 years old in the wild, about 20 years in captivity.
- Tamarin Monkeys – These are small monkeys of the family Callitrichidae, roughly the size of a squirrel. There are several species of Tamarin, and many of them are endangered or critical. With one example, the Golden Lion Tamarin, less than half of infants survive their first year of life. If they do, a life span of 8 – 15 years can be expected. This is a fairly typical lifespan across the Tamarin species.
- Titi Monkeys – The different Titi Monkey species vary substantially in size and coloring but resemble each other in most other physical ways. They are found in wet or inundated forests, especially in dense underbrush, and in gallery forests across South America. Across the species, their average life expectancy is up to 12 years.
- Spider Monkeys – These are primitive New World monkeys of the family ‘Atelidae’ found in tropical lowland rainforests from Mexico to Brazil. They are potentially the longest living of the new world monkeys, with a life span in the wild of about 27 years and 33 years in captivity.
Lifecycle Of A Monkey
The female monkey gestation period in the Old World monkeys lasts between five and seven months. Births are usually single, although, as with humans, twin births do also occur from time to time. The young are born relatively well developed and are able to cling onto their mothers fur with their hands from birth. The young reach sexual maturity typically within four to six years.
New world monkeys, such as Saki Monkeys, can reach sexual maturity around the age of 3. Others, such as the squirrel monkey have a similar age for female maturity but longer for males, which reach sexual maturity around 5 years of age. Females bear a single young which are weaned after 4 months. Some species are weaned a lot longer, up to 18 months.
In some instances, such as with the Cottontop Tamarin, sexual maturity can be reached within 12-15 months.
Do Monkeys Live Longer In The Wild Or Captivity?
As with most species, particularly those that are vulnerable or have the threat of habitat loss, monkeys can potentially live longer in captivity. It is much easier to observe the lifespan of a monkey in captivity than in the wild, but as they are quite widely observed, the data is good for both scenarios. In captivity many of the threats of the wild world are removed, diet is secure and there is more potential to thrive.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The security comes at a price, the most obvious being the limited range of a captive environment, and the impact that can have on behaviour and mental health.
In captivity, there are several examples of monkeys living into their 50’s, and more rarely into their 60’s.
The Oldest Monkeys On Record
The oldest monkey alive today, is a Spider Monkey called Elvis. This monkey, who lives in captivity at Idaho Zoo, turned 61 this year in may well be the oldest in the world, though their may be unrecorded wild monkeys that are older.
In contrast, the oldest Chimpanzee alive today is a resident in Chimp Eden in South Africa called Joao. This male chimp is believed to be between 75-78 years old and is the oldest non-human hominid that we know of alive today.
To summarise, old world monkeys live longer than new world monkeys in general. Baboons are the largest but also the longest living monkeys, averaging up to 45 years. Spider Monkeys appear to be the amongst the longest living of the new world monkeys, averaging up to 33 years in captivity.
With many environmental concerns removed, monkeys do tend to live longer in well run captive environments. Potentially they can live much longer lives. There are so many different species of monkey, and we still have so much to learn about these magnificent animals.