This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
By ALFRED R. WALLACE.
If the skeleton of an orang-outang and a chimpanzee be compared with that of a man, there will be found to be the most wonderful resemblance, together with a very marked diversity. Bone for bone, throughout the whole structure, will be found to agree in general form, position, and function, the only absolute differences being that the orang has nine wrist bones, whereas man and the chimpanzee have but eight; and the chimpanzee has thirteen pairs of ribs, whereas the orang, like man, has but twelve. With these two exceptions, the differences are those of shape, proportion, and direction only, though the resulting differences in the external form and motions are very considerable. The greatest of these are, that the feet of the anthropoid or man-like apes, as well as those of all monkeys, are formed like hands, with large opposable thumbs fitted to grasp the branches of trees, but unsuitable for erect walking, while the hands have weak, small thumbs, but very long and powerful fingers, forming a hook, rather than a hand, adapted for climbing up trees and suspending the whole weight from horizontal branches. The almost complete identity of the skeleton, however, and the close similarity of the muscles and of all the internal organs, have produced that striking and ludicrous resemblance to man, which every one recognizes in these higher apes, and, in a less degree, in the whole monkey tribe; the face and features, the motions, attitudes, and gestures being often a strange caricature of humanity. Let us, then, examine a little more closely in what the resemblance consists, and how far, and to what extent, these animals really differ from us.
Besides the face, which is often wonderfully human--although the absence of any protuberant nose gives it often a curiously infantile aspect, monkeys, and especially apes, resemble us most closely in the hand and arm. The hand has well-formed fingers, with nails, and the skin of the palm is lined and furrowed like our own. The thumb is, however, smaller and weaker than ours, and is not so much used in taking hold of anything. The monkey's hand is, therefore, not so well adapted as that of man for a variety of purposes, and cannot be applied with such precision in holding small objects, while it is unsuitable for performing delicate operations, such as tying a knot or writing with a pen. A monkey does not take hold of a nut with its forefinger and thumb, as we do, but grasps it between the fingers and the palm in a clumsy way, just as a baby does before it has acquired the proper use of its hand. Two groups of monkeys--one in Africa and one in South America--have no thumbs on their hands, and yet they do not seem to be in any respect inferior to other kinds which possess it. In most of the American monkeys the thumb bends in the same direction as the fingers, and in none is it so perfectly opposed to the fingers as our thumbs are; and all these circumstances show that the hand of the monkey is, both structurally and functionally, a very different and very inferior organ to that of man, since it is not applied to similar purposes, nor is it capable of being so applied.
When we look at the feet of monkeys we find a still greater difference, for these have much larger and more opposable thumbs, and are therefore more like our hands; and this is the case with all monkeys, so that even those which have no thumbs on their hands, or have them small and weak and parallel to the fingers, have always large and well-formed thumbs on their feet. It was on account of this peculiarity that the great French naturalist Cuvier named the whole group of monkeys Quadrumana, or four-handed animals, because, besides the two hands on their fore-limbs, they have also two hands in place of feet on their hind-limbs. Modern naturalists have given up the use of this term, because they say that the hind extremities of all monkeys are really feet, only these feet are shaped like hands; but this is a point of anatomy, or rather of nomenclature, which we need not here discuss.
Let us, however, before going further, inquire into the purpose and use of this peculiarity, and we shall then see that it is simply an adaptation to the mode of life of the animals which possess it. Monkeys, as a rule, live in trees, and are especially abundant in the great tropical forests. They feed chiefly upon fruits, and occasionally eat insects and birds'-eggs, as well as young birds, all of which they find in the trees; and, as they have no occasion to come down to the ground, they travel from tree to tree by jumping or swinging, and thus pass the greater part of their lives entirely among the leafy branches of lofty trees. For such a mode of existence, they require to be able to move with perfect ease upon large or small branches, and to climb up rapidly from one bough to another. As they use their hands for gathering fruit and catching insects or birds, they require some means of holding on with their feet, otherwise they would be liable to continual falls, and they are able to do this by means of their long finger-like toes and large opposable thumbs, which grasp a branch almost as securely as a bird grasps its perch. The true hands, on the contrary, are used chiefly to climb with, and to swing the whole weight of the body from one branch or one tree to another, and for this purpose the fingers are very long and strong, and in many species they are further strengthened by being partially joined together, as if the skin of our fingers grew together as far as the knuckles. This shows that the separate action of the fingers, which is so important to us, is little required by monkeys, whose hand is really an organ for climbing and seizing food, while their foot is required to support them firmly in any position on the branches of trees, and for this purpose it has become modified into a large and powerful grasping hand.
Another striking difference between monkeys and men is that the former never walk with ease in an erect posture, but always use their arms in climbing or in walking on all-fours like most quadrupeds. The monkeys that we see in the streets dressed up and walking erect, only do so after much drilling and teaching, just as dogs may be taught to walk in the same way; and the posture is almost as unnatural to the one animal as it is to the other. The largest and most man-like of the apes--the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orang-outang--also walk usually on all-fours; but in these the arms are so long and the legs so short that the body appears half erect when walking; and they have the habit of resting on the knuckles of the hands, not on the palms like the smaller monkeys, whose arms and legs are more nearly of an equal length, which tends still further to give them a semi-erect position. Still they are never known to walk of their own accord on their hind legs only, though they can do so for short distances, and the story of their using a stick and walking erect by its help in the wild state is not true. Monkeys, then, are both four-handed and four-footed beasts; they possess four hands formed very much like our hands, and capable of picking up or holding any small object in the same manner; but they are also four-footed, because they use all four limbs for the purpose of walking, running, or climbing; and, being adapted to this double purpose, the hands want the delicacy of touch and the freedom as well as the precision of movement which ours possess. Man alone is so constructed that he walks erect with perfect ease, and has his hands free for any use to which he wishes to apply them; and this is the great and essential bodily distinction between monkeys and men.
We will now give some account of the different kinds of monkeys and the countries they inhabit.