A Brief Overview of Primates

A primate species belongs from ancestors of small mammals that reside mostly in the trees of tropical areas. Most primates show adaptability to the challenging, diverse arboreal ambience. They mainly include species related to lorises, lemurs, gorillas, apes, etc.

Biology is a vital subject for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). So, aspirants need to understand the concept of primates clearly.

While preparing for the complex concepts, do not stress yourself too much. Relax and learn about the primate definition and its evolution carefully to get better scores.

Characteristics of a Primate

Mostly, all primate species have adaptability for climbing trees as most of them are descendent of tree-dwellers. Read the following points below to know some of the primates characteristics. These include: 

  1. They have a shoulder joint which can rotate. It can secure ball joints and strong collarbones which allows them to climb trees efficiently. 

  2. Apart from humans, they have a large toe which is separate from the other toes and thumbs for grasping. The movement of hands, fingers and thumbs enable a primate to grasp easily. 

  3. All primate species have a stereoscopic vision. They have a dual overlapping vision that enables a mammal to see from a distance. Around fifty per cent of the brain cell in a primate plays the role of visual processing.

Other Characteristics: 

  • They have a larger brain than other mammals.

  • Modification of claws into flat nails.

  • Most of them are arboreal except a few primate species.

  • Primate species have a natural menstrual cycle.

  • They are mostly social animals.

  • Most of them live their lives on trees.

  • Mostly, they have a single offspring in one pregnancy.

Classification of Primate Species

Primates get classified into two broad categories known as Prosimii or prosimians, and Anthropoidea or simians. The classification is based on the brain size of the species. 


  • They have claws in place of a nail, mostly on a second and third finger for cleaning the body.

  • These animals are arboreal.

  • They have a moist and large nose tip without any hair.

  • They are also known as lower primate species.

  • Animals included in the prosimians are lorises, lemurs and tarsiers.

  • Most lemurs possess a sharp snout, big eyes, and a long tail. They are usually small in size, and they live on trees.

  • Lorises are arboreal, and they are nocturnal. They possess soft brown fur with large eyes encircling dark round patches around them. Tarsiers are furry species having a long tail, sticky features and their large eyes allow night vision. 

  • They have cerebrum of small in size without many complications.


  • Most simians contain large sized brain found in apes and human beings. 

  • Unlike prosimians, their brain plays complex roles, contain opposable thumbs, and lacks wet mucus in the nose.

  • These Anthropoidea gets further classified into Platyrrhini found in the new world of monkeys, and Catarrhini found in the ancient world of monkeys. Catarrhini gets classified into Cercopithecoidea and Hominoidea. 

  • Cercopithecoidea comprises in macaques, baboons, and langurs, whereas Hominoidea consists of apes and human beings.

  • Hominoidea gets further divided into gibbons, gorilla, orangutan and human beings. They have long neck and forelimbs along with broad shoulders in common. Moreover, their shape and size increases but facial bones decrease in form, and they do not have a visible tail.

  • They have developed facial muscles, and their hands are capable of grasping.

  • Their eyes are present close to each other.

  • Their fingers of hands and foot contain nails. The third finger is longer in comparison to the fourth one, usually.

  • Their lachrymal canal has an opening towards the orbital cavity.

  • Platyrrhini contains a more complex and mature brain compared to Prosimii. They have molars and pre-molar in square-like appearance along with a dental formula of 2,1,33 approximately. They do not have an opposable thumb, and they have a long tail.

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Do It Yourself

Read the following questions on primates and try solving them to ace your exams.

  1. Which of the following primate species are the humans closely related to?

  1. Chimpanzees

  2. Apes

  3. Gorillas

  4. None of these

  1. Which species were originally associated with the use of tools made of stones and fashion?

  1. Homo habilis

  2. Lemurs

  3. Cercopithecoidea

  4. Ceboidea

  1. Which of the following one is the approximate size of a homo habilis’ brain?

  1. 800cc

  2. 650cc

  3. 200cc

  4. 400cc

  1. For how long have humans and chimpanzees been evolving over these years as per the genetic analysis

  1. 4 million years

  2. Centuries ago 

  3. 7 million years

  4. None of these

Aim High and Stay Composed!

We hope that the above guidelines will help you understand the nature of primates and its characteristics. 

If you are planning to appear for a National level entrance exam, you need to understand the basic concepts of Biology well. As numerous students attempt NEET every year, therefore you should aim high too.

Besides, you should stay calm if you are preparing for complex topics related to evolution, genetics, etc. Also, read in detail regarding what is a primate and other points related to it.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What Separates Humans From the Other Primate Species?

Ans. Humans are differentiated from the primates meaning in Biology by three unique features. They have a larger portion of the brain along with a cortex for complex thinking which other mammal’s lack. Human beings possess an opposable thumb that enables complex activities along with an enlarged pharynx which is not present in any other primate.

2. What is the difference between a Primate and Non-Primate?

Ans. The primary difference between a primate and non-primate is that primates possess a large and complex fore-brain, whereas non-primate species have a smaller brain. Moreover, non-primates have an oestrous cycle instead of a normal menstrual cycle present in a primate.

3. What are the Types of Primate?

Ans. Originally, primates got divided into Anthropoidea and Prosimii. Anthropoidea is mostly seen as the big-brained monkeys and apes, including human beings, whereas prosimii or the primitive ones comprises of lemurs, tarsiers and lorises.