Understanding the general characteristics of apes will help you understand them in a better way. Learn more about apes from this article.

Characteristics Of Apes

The word ‘apes’ appears to be confusing to many people because of its varied use. It has been used to denote monkeys, in general, or to represent tailless primates. Hence, it is important to be clear of the idea that the term actually refers to. In biology, the term ape refers to old world anthropoid mammals, especially the tailless catarrhine primates who belong to the superfamily Hominoidea. These mammals are native to Africa and south-east Asia. Apes are the largest primates who live an arboreal life, orangutan being the largest among them. Fourteen species, including gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and gibbons, comprise the group ‘apes’. Apes are traditionally forest dwellers, although their habitats may range to savanna as well. They are quick climbers and this trait helps them in their arboreal lives. Being close kin of human beings, many of apes’ characteristics resemble those of humans. Learn more about the morphological, anatomical, physiological and reproductive characteristics of apes from this article.

General Characteristics Of Apes

Morphological characteristics
  • The orbits of apes’ eyes are encircled with bone.
  • Apes have forward-facing eyes that provide them a binocular vision, allowing them to perceive depth.
  • They have flattened snouts and noses. They lack whiskers.
  • Unlike other species of monkeys, apes do not have hairy faces.
  • Their ears are relatively small and hairless.
  • Apes have long arms, which is an adaptation for their arboreal life. They use their long arms to brachiate through trees.
  • Apes have five digits on all limbs.
  • Apes can balance themselves in bipedal pose and walk considerable distances in this manner.
  • Opposable thumb aids them in holding things (power gripping) and picking up small objects (precision gripping).
  • Apes have flattened nails that aid in fingertip protection. They have sensitive tactile pads on digits.
  • Dentition of apes is adapted for opportunistic, omnivorous diet. 
Anatomical Characteristics
  • Apes have one upper and two lower bones on each limb.
  • They have ball and socket joints at their wrists which are unique only to apes; even humans do not have such joints at the wrists.
  • They have the most mobile shoulders among all mammals and this is due to the dorsal position of scapula, the shoulder bone.
  • The ribs of apes are flatter front-to-back which makes their rib cages broader.
  • Their brain is larger than the normal body-brain ratio; this shows high level of intelligence.
  • Apes show progressive expansion of brain cells, especially the cerebral cortex region. 
  • They have a less mobile spine as compared to monkeys.
  • Apes do not have tails; their tail vertebrae are greatly reduced.
  • The top of apes’ heads, cranium, are large and dome shaped. 
Physiological Characteristics
  • Apes regulate their body temperature internally (endothermy).
  • The dietary habits of apes show great variation among different species. While gorillas are foliovorous (feeding of leaves), other species are primarily frugivorous (feeding on fruits), however, chimpanzees may hunt sometimes for meat. Foraging behaviors are correspondingly variable among various species.
  • Apes have many physiological adaptations in the gut, including anatomical specializations of stomach, caecum and colon. They are adapted to digest food high in structural carbohydrates (fiber) and can detoxify secondary compounds from plants.
  • Apes rely on vision rather than smell. This is because they have good vision while their olfactory senses are not as developed.
  • Primates have color vision. 
Reproduction And Parenting
  • Primates exhibit sexual dimorphism i.e., phenotypically different males and females.
  • Males have pendulous penis and scrotal testis.
  • Females have two well-developed pectoral mammary glands.
  • Apes have a long gestation period which differs from one species to another. 
  • Apes, like humans, have reduced litter size, usually one youngling per litter. This enables them to provide better parenting.
  • Apes feed their young ones with breast milk, secreted from mammary glands.  
  • Apes show attachment parenting. The young ones remain attached to either of their parents for the first few years after birth. This helps the young ones to learn the complex structure of their society. 
Social Characteristics
  • Primates are largely social animals with complex social structure. Social life helps them protect each other from predators and also preserves depleting food resources.
  • Apes form groups and these groups belong to one of the following six; single female and her offspring, monogamous family group, one-male-several-female group, group with several males and females, polyandrous family group and fission-fusion society. 
Differences Between Humans And Apes
  • Human jaws are shorter and more arc-shaped than that of apes. 
  • The point of attachment of brain to vertebral column in humans evolved to get positioned under the skull while, in apes, this attachment lies at the back of the head. This feature enables humans to stand up in an erect position.
  • Muscles attached to the crests and ridges on the skull of apes, such as eyebrow ridges, are much larger while in humans, owing to evolution, these muscles reduced and became smaller.
  • Human arms are shorter in length than those of apes. Even the legs differ; they became longer with evolution and helped human beings in walking erect.
  • The body hair density also differs in humans and apes; humans have shorter and thinner hair than apes.

Apes are human ancestors and hence, share many common anatomical and morphological characteristics with us. The above write-up provides you with some common characteristics of apes which will help you understand them better. These characteristics are generic to apes and specifics may vary according to the species.  

How to Cite

More from iloveindia.com