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Facts about Apes for Kids


Apes are Old World anthropoid mammals, more specifically a clade of tailless catarrhine primates, belonging to the biological superfamily Hominoidea. Hominoids are traditionally forest dwellers, although chimpanzees may range into savanna, and the extinct australopithecines are famous for being savanna inhabitants, inferred from their morphology.

  • Hominoidea contains two families of living (extant) species: Hylobatidae consists of four genera and sixteen species of gibbon, including the lar gibbon and the siamang.
  • Hominidae consists of orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans.
  • Alternatively, the hominidae family are collectively described as the great apes.
  • Biologists have used the term “ape” to mean a member of the superfamily Hominoidea other than humans, or more recently to mean all members of the superfamily Hominoidea, so that “ape” becomes another word for “hominoid”.
  • Their diet is best described as vegetarian or omnivorous, consisting of leaves, nuts, seeds and fruits, including grass seeds, and in most cases other animals, either hunted or scavenged, along with anything else available and easily digested.
  • Most nonhuman hominoids are rare or endangered.
  • Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark was one of the primatologists who developed the idea that there were “trends” in primate evolution and that the living members of the order could be arranged in a series, leading through “monkeys” and “apes” to humans.
  • Within this tradition, “ape” refers to all the members of the superfamily Hominoidea, except humans.
  • Thus “apes” are a paraphyletic group, meaning that although all the species of apes descend from a common ancestor, the group does not include all the descendants of that ancestor, because humans are excluded.
  • See the section History of hominoid taxonomy below for a discussion of changes in scientific classification and terminology.
  • Further, current evidence implies that humans share a common extinct ancestor with the chimpanzee line, from which we separated more recently than the gorilla line.
  • Hominoids have more mobile shoulder joints and arms due to the dorsal position of the scapula, broad ribcages that are flatter front-to-back, and a shorter, less mobile spine compared to Old World monkeys, with caudal (tail) vertebrae greatly reduced, resulting in complete tail loss in living species.
  • Later fossil finds indicated that Ramapithecus was more closely related to the orangutan, and new biochemical evidence indicated that the last common ancestor of humans and other hominins occurred between 5 and 10 million years ago, and probably in the lower end of that range.
  • In 1758, Carolus Linnaeus, relying on second- or third-hand accounts, placed a second species in Homo along with H. sapiens: Homo troglodytes (“cave-dwelling man”).
  • The troglodytes name was used for the chimpanzee by Blumenbach in 1775 but moved to the genus Simia.