Do Monkeys Have Paws Or Hands? (The Definitive Answer!)

With some animals, it’s hard to say whether they have hands or paws. Hands and paws look similar: both have thin and hairless skin on their underside, both have different bones, muscles, and ligaments that allow movement, and both have several digits.

The main difference between a hand and a paw is the ability to grab things; hands can seize objects, while paws can not.

Humans have hands, while dogs, cats, bears have paws.

But what about primates other than humans? Do monkeys have paws or hands?

Do Monkeys Have Paws Or Hands? 

barbary macaque monkey hands

Monkeys, just like humans, have 2 hands. They use them to grasp various things, like tree branches, tasty bananas, or small particles when grooming their friends. 

Every healthy monkey has 4 limbs: 2 arms and 2 legs. On each arm there is a hand; on each hand, monkeys have 5 digits. At the end of every digit, both on hand and feet, monkeys have fingernails and toenails. 

On the ground, monkeys walk with the entire sole of the foot touching the ground but with the palm of the hand raised.

The fingers of a hand of a monkey are not webbed; only one species of monkeys, the Proboscis monkeys, have partially-webbed toes and fingers.

The only exceptions to having 5 digits are the spider monkeys, the woolly spider monkeys of South America, and the colobus monkeys of Africa; they lack the thumbs. 

Both the hands and feet of monkeys are prehensile – this means that they are capable of seizing, grasping, or holding something by wrapping around it. This can be very helpful when climbing or swinging from one tree to the other. Monkeys also have prehensile tails that can help with that.

Humans, unlike monkeys, only have prehensile hands; our feet are not as flexible as those of monkeys. 

Scientists at the University of Florida recently discovered that monkeys did not always have nails on their hands. The oldest known primate ancestor, Teilhardina brandti, had claws it would use for removing ticks, lice, and other parasites from its fur. 

The main reason why monkey ancestors lost their grooming claws is that they had each other to help with grooming. 

Social grooming among these first primates developed, they got better at climbing, leaping, and grasping, and nails might have proven more practical than claws.

So as the grasping hand evolved, claws disappeared. Today, monkeys have flat fingernails and larger fingertip pads, which help them pick up small objects, maintain a tight grip and perform fine motor movements.

Old World monkeys, native to Africa and Asia, seem to have hands that are more precise than the hands of other primates. 

New World monkeys, native to Central and South America, have more tactile hands than Old World monkeys. However, their hands are not as adapted for precise seizing or grasping as the hands of their Old World relatives. 

Did you know?

Some monkeys do not like their hands being dirty. After grabbing peeled bananas with their hands, monkeys can be seen rubbing their hands as if they are trying to clean the palms of their hands from the sticky fruit.

Some Monkeys Will Pee On Their Hands On Purpose

Scientists noticed that males of several monkey species pee into their hands and then vigorously rub the fluid into their fur. No, this is not to help them clean their hands, improve their grip, or cool down.

Apparently, the brains of female monkeys become more active when they smell the urine of sexually mature adult males.

They react like that because males excrete high concentrations of the male sex hormone, testosterone, in their urine. That testosterone is linked to their social status – the higher the status, the bigger the opportunity to mate. 

A big number of New World monkeys regularly urinate on their hands, including mantled howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and several species of capuchins.

In a different study at the University of Northern Iowa, scientists discovered that monkeys that urine-washed their hands and feet frequently had lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Use this information at your own discretion. 

Monkey’s Opposable Thumb

palm and thumb of a small monkey

The main component of the grasping ability of all monkeys is the opposable thumb, just like the one humans have. 

Having an opposable thumb on its hands means that the monkey can move its thumb freely and independently and flex it so that it “opposes” or touches the tips of other fingers. This allows the animal to grip objects better.

It might not seem as much, but the opposable thumb is also the basis of the precise grip; something particularly developed in baboons.

Gelada baboons can pluck grass between the thumb and index finger while holding a bundle of grass against the palm with the other digits.

Japanese macaques will use several variations of a delicate pad-to-pad precision grip between the thumb and index finger to remove louse eggs from the hair follicle while grooming

The apes, on the other hand, have short thumbs and long fingers and do not possess admirable manual dexterity.

Animals that have opposable thumbs include monkeys like grivets, baboons, and macaques, apes like the gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, orangutan, and gibbon, other primates like humans and lemurs, chameleons, koalas, some frogs, and others.

Prehensile Hands And Tails Help With Climbing And Swinging

hand and fingers of a gorilla

Monkey’s long hands, strong grip, and precise hands and tail allow it to climb and swing from one tree to another with ease. Brachiating monkeys will use their hands like hooks and can reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour while swinging.

One species of apes, gibbons, have the longest size of their arms relative to their size. Coupled with their strong shoulders and powerful hands, gibbons climb quickly, can swing at up to 35 mph km/h, and can leap up to 26 feet in a single bound.

monkeys ribbon

Final Thoughts

If you were pondering on the question “do monkeys have paws or hands”, we hope this article removed all doubts. 

Just like humans, and many other primates, monkeys use their hands for various activities. Some include gripping various objects such as tree branches, food, particles, and lice when grooming other monkeys. 

Monkeys’ precise fingers and opposable thumbs allow them to have fine motor skills in performing tasks with their hands. They have pentadactyl hands with relatively long and unwebbed digits which enables monkeys to close the digits of one hand around a small object and press it against their palms. Monkeys do not have paws.

In fact, their fingers are so precise that monkeys will use them to pinch and peel a banana, just as humans sometimes would. 

Whether they use them for exploration, play, self-care, social behavior, locomotion, or feeding, the use of hands is one of the most defining characteristics of monkeys.

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