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Why Only Some Monkeys Have Awesome Tails

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Channel: MinuteEarth
Categories: Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science  
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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)
- Opossum
- Chameleon
- 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

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