Baboons: Types & Characteristics

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson you will learn about the five different species of baboons, including some of the physical and behavioral characteristics that they all share, and some differences between them.

A Genus of Five

Baboons are among the largest types of monkey, with the males ranging from 37 to 66 pounds, depending on the species. Even the smallest species of baboon is as big as a border collie!

There are five different species of baboon, and all of them belong to the genus Papio. Of course there are differences between species, but there are also many similarities. Some of the species, such as the hamadryas and the olive baboons, are so closely related that they can interbreed, producing hybrid babies.

Types of Baboons

Of the five baboon species, the chacma baboon is the largest, and the hamadryas babooon is the smallest. The other species are the olive baboon (also called the anubis baboon), the yellow baboon, and the Guinea baboon. Together their ranges cover central Africa, from Guinea on the western coast to Somalia on the eastern coast. They also range north to Chad and south to Tanzania, which keeps them centrally located in Africa. In addition, baboons can be found in parts of Arabia.

Yellow baboons are one of the five species of baboons
Yellow baboons

Savanna Baboons

Four of the five species of baboons are often grouped together and referred to as the 'savanna baboons.' This is because they mostly live in the drier areas of central Africa, especially on the savanna. The savanna baboons are the yellow, olive, Guinea, and chacma baboons, and they all share a number of characteristics.

For one, savanna baboons live in enormous groups called troops. These can sometimes have more than two hundred baboons! Imagine a group of two hundred dog-sized monkeys roaming the savannas. It would be quite a sight!

The males often fight for dominance within these troops, but there is very little fighting among the females. This may be partly because females are usually related to each other. Females stay with their birth troops, while males are kicked out of the troop and must go join a new one once they reach maturity.

These four species cover a fairly wide range of colors, including black, brown, yellow, and red.

Hamadryas Baboons

The hamadryas baboon is the only one not included in the savanna baboon category. This is because it lives on cliffs along the coast of the Red Sea, rather than on the central savanna.

Hamadryas baboons are different in other ways as well. They do not live in large groups. They spend nights together in moderately sized groups, but go out alone or in small groups during the day. Certainly their group sizes never reach anywhere near those of the savanna baboons! In addition, hamadryas males are a silver-gray color, which is quite different from any of the other baboon species.

Male hamadryas baboons are a striking silvery gray color
Hamadryas baboon

Shared Characteristics

All five species of baboons do share a few common characteristics. For one thing, they are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants. They will eat anything from fruit to crops to insects or even young antelopes. In fact, their scavenging in crop fields is a huge problem for farmers when the baboons live in agricultural areas.

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