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5: Meet the Living Primates

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    Learning Objectives

    • Describe how studying nonhuman primates is important in anthropology.
    • Compare two ways of categorizing taxa: grades and clades.
    • Define different types of traits used to evaluate primate taxa.
    • Identify key ways that primates differ from other mammals.
    • Distinguish between the major primate taxa using their key characteristics.
    • Describe your place in nature by learning your taxonomic classification.

    You may be wondering why a field dedicated to the study of humans includes discussions of nonhuman animals. Our primary goal in biological anthropology is to understand how humans are similar to and different from the rest of the natural world, why we have the traits we have, and how we got to be the way we are. But to fully grasp our place in nature, we must look to our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates. In this chapter, we focus on the organization and diversity within the Order Primates.

    This chapter is a revision from “Chapter 5: Meet the Living Primates” by Stephanie Etting. In Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology, first edition, edited by Beth Shook, Katie Nelson, Kelsie Aguilera, and Lara Braff, which is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.


    The Order Primates is a diverse and fascinating group of animals united in sharing a suite of characteristics—visual specialization, grasping hands and feet, large brains, and extended life histories—that differentiates us from other groups of mammals. In this chapter, we surveyed the major taxonomic groups of primates, discussing where humans fit among our close relatives as well as discovering that primates are interesting animals in their own right. We discussed a range of key traits used to distinguish between the many taxa of living primates, including dietary, locomotor, and behavioral characteristics. Because of our long, shared evolutionary history with these animals, nonhuman primates provide a crucial resource for understanding our current biology. In Chapter 6, you will discover the fascinating and complex social behaviors of nonhuman primates, which provide further insight into our evolutionary biology.

    This page titled 5: Meet the Living Primates is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephanie Etting (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.