Published on July 17, 2016
(Hominoidea) are a branch of Old World tailless anthropoid catarrhine primates native to Africa and Southeast Asia. They are distinguished from other primates by a wider degree of freedom of motion at the shoulder joint as evolved by the influence of brachiation. There are two extant branches of the superfamily Hominoidea: the gibbons, or lesser apes; and the hominids, or great apes.
The family Hylobatidae, the lesser apes, include four genera and a total of sixteen species of gibbon, including the lar gibbon and the siamang, all native to Asia. They are highly arboreal and bipedal on the ground. They have lighter bodies and smaller social groups than great apes.
The family Hominidae, known collectively as the great apes, includes orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans; alternatively, this family clade is also known as the hominids. There are seven extant species of great apes: two in the orangutans (genus Pongo), two in the gorillas (genus Gorilla), two in the chimpanzees (genus Pan), and a single extant species, Homo sapiens, of modern humans (genus Homo).
Members of the superfamily Hominoidea are called hominoids—which term is not to be confused with hominids, the family of great apes; or with the hominins, the tribe of humans also known as the human clade; or with other very similar terms of primate taxa. (Compare terminology of primate names.)
Recent evidence has changed our understanding of the relationships between the hominoids, especially regarding the human lineage; and the traditionally used terms have become somewhat confused. Competing approaches re methodology and terminology are found among current scientific sources. See below, History of hominoid taxonomy and see Primate: Historical and modern terminology for discussions of the changes in scientific classification and terminology regarding hominoids.
Some, or – recently – all, hominoids are also called “apes”, but the term is used broadly and has several different senses within both popular and scientific settings. “Ape” has been used as a synonym for “monkey” or for naming any primate with a human-like appearance, particularly those without a tail. Thus the Barbary macaque, a kind of monkey, is popularly called the “Barbary ape”. Biologists have traditionally used the term “ape” to mean a member of the superfamily Hominoidea other than humans, but more recently to mean all members of Hominoidea. So “ape”—not to be confused with “great ape”—now becomes another word for hominoid including humans.
Except for gorillas and humans, hominoids are agile climbers of trees. Their diet is best described as frugivorous and folivorous, consisting mainly of fruit, nuts, seeds, including grass seeds, leaves, and in some cases other animals, either hunted or scavenged, or (solely in the case of the humans) farmed—along with anything else available and easily digested.
Most non-human hominoids are rare or endangered. The chief threat to most of the endangered species is loss of tropical rainforest habitat, though some populations are further imperiled by hunting for bushmeat. The great apes of Africa are also facing threat from the Ebola virus. Currently considered to be the greatest threat to survival of African apes,Ebola is responsible for the death of at least one third of the species since 1990.
(sometimes called chimps) are one of two exclusively African species of great ape that are currently extant. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, both are currently found in the Congo jungle. Classified in the genus Pan, they were once considered to be one species. However, since 1928, they have been recognized as two distinct species: the common chimpanzee (P. troglodytes) live north of the Congo River and the bonobo (P. paniscus) who live south. In addition, P. troglodytes is divided into four subspecies, while P. paniscus has none. Based on genome sequencing, the two extant Pan species diverged around one million years ago. The most obvious differences are that chimpanzees are somewhat larger, more aggressive and male dominated, while the bonobos are more gracile, peaceful, and female dominated.
Their hair is typically black or brown. Males and females differ in size and appearance. Both chimps and bonobos are some of the most social great apes, with social bonds occurring among individuals in large communities. Fruit is the most important component of a chimpanzee’s diet; however, they will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even other chimps or monkeys. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity.
Chimpanzees and bonobos are equally humanity’s closest living relatives. As such, they are among the largest-brained, and most intelligent of primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. They have both been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of Pan troglodytes were pioneered by primatologist Jane Goodall. Both Pan species are considered to be endangered as human activities have caused severe declines in the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild panina populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of Pan species in the wild.