Baboons are monkeys that look quite unusual – the large tufts of hair at the sides of their faces and their red, hairless butts immediately capture the attention of an onlooker. It is no wonder, that most people are less certain about other aspects of baboon anatomy. Do baboons have tails?
Yes, they do! Since they belong to the group of Old World Monkeys, though, their tails are not prehensile. This means that they cannot use their tails to grip something, as New World Monkeys, like the spider monkey, for example, can.
Therefore, the tails of baboons cannot support them when they climb, other than for balance. They spend most of the day on the ground and only retire to the trees at night. The arms and legs of baboons are almost of the same length, so they look dog-like when they walk on all fours, which earned them the nickname “dog monkeys“.
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Why Do Baboons Have Red Butts?
The most striking physical characteristic of baboons is without a doubt their large, hairless rear end that can turn red. In fact, it is only female baboons that have these red and swollen butts. The redness of their bottom has to do with their menstrual cycle. Their butt turns red for about 10 to 20 days each month when ovulation is near, signaling to males that they are fertile.
Their butts also swell significantly, swellings of 4 and even 6.5 inches have been recorded. All these are signals for the male baboons that it is a good time for mating. A study has shown, though, that males do not necessarily prefer the females with the reddest butt or the biggest swelling. Instead, males looked for females that had not had an infant in quite a while.
Baboons’ butts are hairless because, other than different species of monkeys that can squat, baboons always sit directly on their bottom. They even develop callouses on their rear ends from sitting all the time.
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Do Baboons Have Predators?
Yes, they do. Their main predators are lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, Nile crocodiles, and African wild dogs. Sometimes, baboons have also been killed by the black mamba, even though they are not per se a prey species of this snake. Impressively, these monkeys are brave fighters that show no fear of larger animals. They are even known to attack leopards.
Before the attack, baboons display aggression and dominance with many signals. They stare directly at the threat, slap the ground with their hands, grind their teeth and shake rocks and branches to intimidate the enemy.
Even aside from displays of dominance, baboons are intensely expressive animals. They have very mobile faces that allow them to display a variety of facial expressions as well as wiggling and flattening of the ears. Aside from that, they have about 30 distinct vocalizations and communicate a lot with postures and hand gestures.
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How Many Types of Primates Are There?
Talking about primates is confusing. Let’s move through it step by step: Firstly, the taxonomic order of primates, which includes apes, monkeys, other similar mammals, and even humans, can be divided into two suborders:
- strepsirrhines, which includes lemurs, galagos, and lorisids, and
- haplorhines, which is the group important for us, because it includes the clades of apes, monkeys, and tarsiers.
Tarsiers are very small mammals with enormous eyes that live in Southeast Asia. They are not important for the purpose of this explanation but you can read all about them in our post: Tarsier – 36+ Questions Answered (with examples, photos & videos)
We have finally arrived at apes and monkeys! They both belong to the infraorder of simians, also known as higher primates. The easiest way to tell the difference between apes and monkeys is to look for a tail. Apes do not have a tail, but most monkeys do.
Apes are also bigger than monkeys and move through trees in a different way – the broad-chested apes have shoulder joints that are perfect for swinging from tree to tree, whereas monkeys mostly run along the branches. Apes are also generally considered to be more intelligent than monkeys.
Apes are split into lesser apes, or gibbons, or the so-called great apes, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.
Monkeys consist of two groups: Old World Monkeys from Africa and Asia are more closely related to apes and have non-prehensile tails. and New World Monkeys from South and Central America, which can use their tail to grip things.