The primate order consists of a fairly vast number of species some of which I was able to see up close and personal at this classes recent field trip to the San Diego zoo. Indeed the species belonging to this mammalian order can exhibit almost shocking differences from one species to the next. So in an order of animals that contains differences that can be so vast what ties them all together. What exactly is it that makes a primate a primate Perhaps providing a description of the various primates I was able to see at the zoo might help to shed some light on the subject.
Among the primates there were about four species designated as lemurs. The Lemurs were all small bodied primates (compared with apes) and all had tails. Even though the animals were caged I was able to see that the lemurs exhibited sign of being arboreal. All the animals designated as lemurs also exhibited signs of a specific type of movement. They scurried across branches in their cages and also were able to leap from branch to branch. This observation led me to believe that lemurs are quadrapedal primates. All of these lemurs also were caged with at least one and in most cases three or four of their peers.
Grooming was also a behavior that I took note of. In the short time I observed these animals the only thing I can say for certain about their social behavior is that it exists and is more developed than that of other mammals. Other primates I was able to see at the zoo were designated as Colubus Monkeys. I was able to spend a few minutes observing the Red Colobus Monkey, Red Tail Colobus Monkey, Black and White Colobus Monkey and the Angolan Colubus Monkey. All of these species had hands with nails. All possessed tails.
The diets of the Colobus Monkeys consisted primarily of leaves and fruits however the word primarily suggests that they also eat a certain amount of meat. All of these monkeys exhibited behavior much the same as the lemurs described previously. They were caged with numerous other animals of the same species and groomed each other. Again the Colobus Monkeys studied here show signs of a highly developed social system. One interesting thing I noticed is that the Angolan Colobus Monkey has no thumb. It seems as if weird differences such as these are characteristic of the primate order.
The animals that were perhaps the most interesting to observe were those belonging to the superfamily Hominoidea. This should not come as much of a surprise seeing that the superfamily Hominoidea also contains humans as well as chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. The first thing I noticed about the orangutans was the amount of sexual dimorphism. There was a large male in the group of orangutans that was at least fifty percent larger than its female counterparts. I was not able to discern much about the orangutans social system in such a short period of time but I can say that a social system did exist between them.
The gorillas struck me as probably the most socially oriented primate I had witnessed. On infant gorilla knuckle walked up to the glass wall separating it from its human observers and playfully slapped its palms on the glass. Could it be that it did this as a means of getting attention, as do human children One other interesting fact that must be noted about the gorillas is that they are not arboreal creatures. The chimpanzees had many of the characteristics that the gorillas possessed with a few differences. The chimps were smaller, had different skin coloration and struck me as less intelligent than the gorillas.
There was something about the orangutans, gorillas and apes that I saw as human like. It seemed like behind their eyes that maybe they had some of the same thoughts and feelings as humans. These animals seemed so far removed from the Colobus Monkeys and Lemurs I had seen earlier. What is it that makes them the same Despite their more obvious differences all these animals possessed certain less obvious similarities. They were all primarily arboreal creatures. That is they all lived in or around trees. They all inhabited warm climates. A social system is also a trademark f primates although the primate order contains animals with a wide spectrum of social behavior and complexity.
It also seems that primates possess an intelligence and dexterity that sets them apart from other animals. Their sense of sight is also more important to them than that of other animals not classified as primates. Another primate trademark is increased parental care. Primate infants develop more slowly and require more aggressive nursing. Hands tailored for grasping are also a characteristic of primates. There is no easy one-sentence definition of what a primate is. All of these things are what make a primate a primate.