Prehensile Tail Use and New World Monkeys

Prehensile tail use is a distinguishing characteristic of some New World monkeys and is an advantage for an arboreal lifestyle.


A prehensile tail functions like a limb that allows the animal to suspend its full body weight by the tail within an arboreal setting (Garber and Rehg, 1999). Prehensile tails are also capable of grasping objects such as a tree branch (Rosenberger, 1983; Rosenberger and Strier, 1989; Bergeson, 1996).


Prehensile tails have developed at least twice within the infraorder of Platyrrhini (Rosenberg, 1983; Lemelin, 1995). Prehensile tails developed approximately, 55 million years ago within the Cebinae and Atelinae families and likely evolved for filling the ecological niches of the New World (Grand 1972; Rose 1974; Garber and Rehg, 1999). The Cebus tail is relatively short and lacks the tactile receptors of the Atelines (Garber and Rehg, 1999). The Atelinae tail has mechanoreceptors that allow for these tactile sensations (Bezanson, 2012) located within the bare area of the distal part of its ventral surface (Garber and Rehg, 1999).


Work Cited 

Bezanson M. (2009). Life history and locomotion in Cebus capucinus and Alouatta palliata. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140:508–517.

Bezanson, M. (2012). The ontogeny of prehensile-tail use in Cebus capucinus and Alouatta palliata: Ontogeny of prehensile-tail use. American Journal of Primatology

Bergerson, D.J. (1996). The positional behavior and prehensile tail use of Alouatta palliata, Ateles geoffroyi and Cebus capucinus. Ph.D. dissertation, Washington University, St. Louis

Garber, P., & Rehg, J. (1999). The ecological role of the prehensile tail in white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 110(3), 325-339.

Grand, TI. (1972).A mechanical interpretation of terminal branch feeding. Journal of Mammals, 53:198–201.

Lemelin, P. (1995). Comparative and functional myology of the prehensile tail in New World Monkeys. Journal of Morphology, 224:1–18.

Rose, M.D. (1974). Postural adaptations in New and Old World monkeys. In Jenkins FA ,editor. Primate locomotion. New York: Academic Press. Pp 201-222.

Rosenberger, A.L. (1983). Tale of tails: parallelism and prehensibility. American Journal of American Physical Anthropology 60: 103-107.

Rosenberger, A.L. & Strier K.B. (1989). Adaptive radiation of the ateline primates. Journal of Human Evolution. 18:717–750.


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