How Primates Differ From Other Mammals

In Zoology, animals are classified into two groups, namely – primates and non-primates. Although many physiological and anatomical traits of these two groups are the same, there is much dissimilarity as well. The critical difference between primates and non-primates is that the former possess a complicated and voluminous brain while the latter has a comparatively smaller brain.


Before knowing more differences between them, you must first understand them separately. Notably, this is a vital topic for your NEET and should not be taken lightly.

Let us begin!


What are Primates?

A primate is any mammal belonging to a group including lemurs, apes, monkeys, lories, tarsiers and humans. They first came into existence for about 55 to 85 millions of years ago and predominantly dwelled on land, adapting their living in the tropical forest trees. Various characteristics of primates show their modifications to sustain in this fast-changing environment like visual acuity, colour vision, dextrous hands and changed shoulder girdle.


The size of primates (according to their body weight) ranges from 30g to more than 200 kg. Based on the usage of classification, 190 to 448 species of primates exist on Earth. Moreover, new species are continuously being discovered out of which 25+ species were introduced between 2000 to 2010, and 11 species from 2010 till now.


Did You Know?

The tiniest primate is Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur whose average length of the body is 3.6 inch (9.2 cm), and it weighs around 1.1 or (30g).


Next, take a look at non-primates meaning.


What are Non - primates?

Non-primates are animals which do not include characteristics similar to primates. Birds, reptiles and amphibians belong to this group. Some mammals are also considered as non-primates.


Now that you have understood them individually, let us proceed further with how are primates different from other mammals.


Physical Features and Development

In comparison with other terrestrial mammals, the big brain of primates holds a special fissure known as Calcarine sulcus which segregates the visual cortexes (first and second) on either portion of the brain. Primates depend on their developed visual sense, while non-primate mammals rely on smelling sense. Other than for apes and humans, all other primates have tails.


All land dwelling mammals possess claws or hooves on their digits, but primates have flat nails. Although some primates possess claws, their hallux contains a flat nail. Apart from humans, every other primate mammal has the ability to grasp objects like branches of trees. The reason behind this feature is that the hallux divides from other toes and together it creates a pincer. Moreover, in the case of opossums and squirrels, these arboreal mammals have the grasping feature in their feet.


The feature of dexterous hands makes old world monkeys (humans and apes) possess thumbs capable of opposing. Also, some lorises and lemurs have this opposable thumb feature. A very significant characteristic owned by primates is Meissner’s corpuscles (specialised nerve endings). These nerve endings are present in hands and feet that enhance tactile sensitivity, and no placental mammal has this feature.


Another difference between primates and non-primates (here mammals) is the duration of development. Maturity in a primate comes later, and these organisms have a larger lifespan as compared to other mammals of same body size. Multiple species of primates are sexually dimorphic and show variation in traits like:

  • Fat distribution

  • Muscle mass

  • Size of the canine tooth

  • Pelvic width

  • Distribution of hair

  • Complexion

In terms of intelligence, non-primate mammals are said to be less intelligent than primates. However, some exceptions are also there.


Natural Environment and Food Habits

Primates differ from other mammals in their food habits and habitat. Generally, primate habitats exist all over the world. The non-human ones are found mainly in South and Central America, Southern Asia and Africa. Some primate species are available in North America’s Mexico and North Asia’s Japan. Some species like Japanese macaque or the snow monkey of Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, Barbary macaque of North Africa and many species of langur of China are said to live outside the tropics. Other than tropical forests, these organisms exist in temperate forests, deserts, savannas, coastal areas and mountains. Apart from humans, baboons and gorillas, all other primate mammals live arboreal life.


Nourishment of primates can be categorised into three groups of food like:

  • Animal prey: insects, crustaceans, spiders, small vertebrates and birds’ eggs.

  • Plant parts (reproductive): flowers, fruits, nuts, seeds, rhizomes and tubers.

  • Plant parts (vegetative): leaves, grasses, stems and parts of gums and bark.

The above content will help you know how are primates different from other mammals.


Fill in the Blanks of this Following Sentence:

1. _________ _________ are special nerve endings present in hands and feet of primates.

Study Hard and Your Desired Results will be Easy to Achieve!


Being a medical aspirant, you are advised to be thorough with the entire curriculum. To achieve a considerable rank in your NEET, you have to give your best effort. Hence, you need to know every chapter in their entirety. For the topic of primates and non-primates, you must be well accustomed with every detail of the same.


It will help if you revise the difference between primates and non-primates several times as it is seen that questions come mainly from this portion. However, in this hectic schedule, make sure to take good care of your health. Avoid eating junk food and cold drinks as falling ill may hamper your preparation. Also, give yourself adequate rest.

All the best!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Similarities Between Primates and Non - Primates?

Ans. The similarities between primates and non-primates are that both groups are animals. They share fundamental anatomic structures and have the same physiological processes.

2. Which Primate is Largely Distributed Around the World?

Ans. Humans are the largely distributed primates throughout the world.

3. What is the Difference Between Primates and Non - Primates with Regards to Breeding?

Ans. In terms of breeding, primates breed continuously whereas, non-primates breed seasonally.

4. What are the Divisions of Primates?

Ans. Primates are classified into two subtypes like strepsirrhines and haplorhines. The first type includes lemurs, lorisids and galagos and the second one consists of dry - nosed primates. Notably, humans are included last in these groups.