Old World Monkeys: Definition, 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 Old World monkeys, including some different types, as well as the characteristics that set them apart from New World monkeys.

What are Old World Monkeys?

Think about all the different species of monkey you've ever heard of. There are quite a few, right? Everything from large baboons down to little squirrel monkeys. Fortunately, there are a few different ways monkeys are categorized, which helps group the many species into more manageable subsets. One of the major classifications is Old World versus New World monkeys.

Old World monkeys are monkeys that live in Africa and Asia, as opposed to the monkeys in the ''new world'' of the Americas. Old World monkeys were also found historically in parts of Europe, but currently they are mostly in Africa and Asia. Old World monkeys all belong to the family Cercopithecidae, and they share a few characteristics besides location that set them apart from New World monkeys.


There are two main subfamilies of Old World monkeys. The first is Cercopithecinae, and this is the largest of the two subgroups. Here you will find baboons, patas monkeys, mandrills, and macaques. Macaques are actually one of the largest genera of Old World monkeys. There are very minor differences between the two subfamilies. One is that Cercopithecinae monkeys have cheek pouches to store food in.

Baboons are one of the more well-known types of Old World monkeys

Members of the second subfamily, Colobinae, do not have cheek pouches, but they have something Cercopithecinae members do not have: stomach pouches. These pockets are located inside the lining of their stomachs, and they contain special enzymes that help the monkeys extract more nutrients from the plants they eat. In this subfamily you will find colobus monkeys, langurs, and probiscus monkeys.


Both subfamilies of Old World monkeys share a number of characteristics that are distinct from New World monkeys. One is their habitat. Old World monkeys live in a variety of habitats, including everything from rainforests to dry plains, and they spend much of their time on the ground. By contrast, New World monkeys live mostly in forests, and spend the majority of their time in trees.

There are also physical differences. The most obvious one is their nose shape. Old World monkeys have noses more like humans, where the nostrils point down and are closer together, although sometimes the nostrils point forward. In New World monkeys, the nostrils point out to the side. The noses of Old World monkeys are also farther down on their faces than New World monkeys.

In addition, though many Old World monkeys have tails that are not prehensile, which means the monkeys cannot use them to grab things or swing from branches. Instead, they have opposable or semi-opposable thumbs, much like humans. Some species of Old World monkeys (such as colobus monkeys) have stumpy thumbs instead of fully opposable ones, but in general the opposable thumb is a common feature.

Finally, their ear construction is also different. In Old World monkeys, the ear is set outside the head and is clearly visible, which is not the case for New World monkeys.

As an Old World monkey, langurs have obvious ears and nostrils that are close together

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account