Primates come under the class Mammalia in zoology. The order includes the lemurs, lorises, monkeys, tarsiers, apes, and humans. It contains over 300 species, and it is the third most diverse order of class Mammalia after order Rodentia (rodents) and Chiroptera (bats). The word “primates” is derived from the French word ‘primat’, which is a noun form of the Latin adjective primat – from primus which in literal terms means “prime or first rank”. The name was given by Carolus Linnaeus because he thought that the primate order is the highest order of animals.
Around 55-85 million years ago the ancestors of modern primates who are known as Plesiadapiforms rose from small mammals. They were adapted for arboreal life in tropical regions (mainly forests). Several primate features indicate life adaptations in this type of environment. These include large brains, clarity of vision, colour vision, dexterous hands, clarity of vision and modified shoulder girdle. The smallest known primate is Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) of Madagascar. These primates weigh around 35 grams; the most massive is certainly the gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), whose weight varies from 140 to 180 kg.
Primates are a diverse group of between 190 and 350 living species. Depending on different taxonomic structures, they exhibit a range of features that help distinguish them from other mammals.
Hands and Feet: Almost all living primates have prehensile hands and feet, with most having five digits on these appendages (these include opposable thumbs). With their hands and feet, primates can perform different types of grips such as holding food or grabbing onto branches. Humans are the exception as their feet are pentadactyl but not prehensile. The hands are sensitive, adding to the sense of touch. The prehensile hands and feet of the primates allow them to live in trees efficiently.
Shoulders and Hips: Primates have flexible shoulders and hip joints. The shoulders help them to have overarm movement which is ideal to swing across trees and climb up and down quickly. The limber hips of primates allow them a greater range of motion in their legs.
Brain: The brain of primates is one of the most distinguishable characteristics of other mammals or animals. The olfactory region of primates has been reduced in most species, such as humans. The cerebrum expanded to accept the order's increasing reliance on sight and social behaviours. The areas of the primate brain that correlate with eye-hand coordination and stereoscopic vision are large compared to other mammals.
Other Characteristics: Other features of primates include having a nail on the first digit although, in many cases, each digit has a nail instead of a claw. Primates also possess a clavicle or collarbone. All primates tend to be erect; this trait is visible when even quadrupedal primates sit or stand.
Non-primates are any animals that do not show the features of a primate. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and some non-primate mammals. They possess non-prehensile limbs or tails. Some non-primates such as insects have jointed appendages. Their shoulders and hips are not flexible. The forebrain of a non-primate is small. Hence, their thinking ability and intelligence are lower than primates.
However, animals such as pigs, octopus, dolphins, crows and elephants are considered intelligent non-primates. Crows use their feet to utilise tools. They can hide and store food season to season. Crows also possess an episodic-like memory from which they can predict future conditions.
The most intelligent domesticated animal is the pig. They can learn how the mirrors work. The most intelligent invertebrate is the octopus. It has both short and long-term memory as well as problem-solving skills.
Dolphins exhibit complex social behaviour and a sophisticated language. Elephants live in close-knit societies with intricate social hierarchy; they are the most intelligent non-primates and exhibit altruism towards other animals. Pregnant female elephants have the knowledge to eat labour-inducing leaves as well.
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The distinguishing features between Primates and Non-primates are mentioned Below
Q1. What are the factors responsible for the declining population of Primates in the wild?
Ans. Some major factors responsible for the decline of the primate population in the wild are deforestation, hunting, drives to mitigate crop-raiding and hunting for use in medicines. Primates are also caught to be sold as pets. Large-scale tropical forest clearing is regarded as the process that most threatens primates. Land clearing for agriculture is one of the top-most causes of forest loss. Other causes include commercial logging, timber harvesting, mining and dam construction. One of the major challenges to primate conservation is that they reach sexual maturity later and have a longer period between births. This is why populations recover more slowly after being depleted.
Q2. Write a note on the classification of Primates?
Ans. The order of primates can be divided into two suborders. These are:
Strepsirrhines (Origin Greek: meaning ‘Wet nosed)
Haplorhines (Origin Greek: meaning ‘simple nosed)