If you have a child who is attending Zoo Camp this summer, hopefully they are bursting with all sorts of newfound primate knowledge. In an effort to help you keep up with the campers in your life, here is a refresher course on primate basics.
For those of you without campers, store this away for future use. You never know when a primate fact may help you win that next trivia game.
Primates are a group of mammals characterized by good eyesight, reasonably large brains and dexterous hands. They can be divided into three groups: prosimians, monkeys and apes. Here at the zoo, we have primates from each of the three subgroups.
Prosimians are the most primitive of the primates. This group is best known by the lemurs of Madagascar and lorises of Asia. These animals tend to have very large eyes and excellent night vision. Compared to other primates, prosimians have smaller bodies and larger noses.
One of the most unusual of all the prosimians is the aye-aye. This strange animal has the teeth of a rodent, the tail of a raccoon and the ears of a bat. It is the only primate in the world with nictitating membranes (a second set of eyelids) and teeth that grow throughout its lifetime.
One of the best known features of the aye-aye is its elongated middle finger. This finger is an essential tool for collecting the grubs and other insects that make up a large portion of the aye-aye's diet. It uses this long, stick-like finger to tap on a tree or branch to find insects. It will then insert its finger into the hole to collect the insects it will slurp up.
If a primate isn't a prosimian it is, by elimination, a simian.
Simians are more commonly known as monkeys and apes. The most obvious difference between these animals and the prosimians is a flattened nose. Simians tend to be more intelligent than prosimians and rely less on their sense of smell.
Equally important, however, is the difference between monkeys and apes.
These primates can often look quite similar but they still are easy to distinguish: monkeys have tails, apes do not. So, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons are all apes. Capuchins, tamarins and most of the animals with the word "monkey" at the end of their names are, in fact, monkeys.
Easy enough, right? Now, your challenge is to bring the child in your life to the zoo and see who can identify the most primates.
We have six species of primate on exhibit, three in Wild Asia and three near the aviary. We have two prosimian species, three monkey species and one species of ape.
Armed with this knowledge, I'm sure you will be able to find them all before your third-grader.
Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.