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Monkeys are found naturally in the jungles and forests of the Southern Hemisphere. There are around 260 known species of monkey worldwide. The monkey can be anywhere from just a few inches tall, with some species of monkey growing to more than three feet tall. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and are divided into two groups; the Old World monkeys that are found in Asia and Africa, and the New World monkeys that are found in South America.

TheOld World monkeys are larger than the New World monkeys. Although both the New World monkeys and Old World monkeys have forward facing eyes, the faces of Old World monkeys and New World monkeys look very different, though each group shares some features such as the types of noses and cheeks.

Howler monkeys are among the largest of the New World monkeys, with some species growing a little more than three-feet
long. Howler monkeys are aptly named for their piercing howling cries. They have the loudest call of all the primates in the world with some howler monkeys being able to project their howling voices for up to a few miles!

Despite their large size, howler monkeys weigh less than twenty two pounds, which allows them to move with more agility through the high trees. They use their tail as an extra arm to grip or hang from branches – no Old World monkeys have such a tail. A gripping tail is especially helpful to howler monkeys since they rarely descend to the ground. They prefer to stay high in the trees, munching on fruit and leaves that make up most of their diet.

One example of an Old World monkey is the mandrill. The mandrill is considered to be one of the largest monkey species in the world. The mandrill is very colorful, perhaps more so than any othermammal. It is easily recognized by its face’s blue and red skin. The mandrill has a long snout; sharp teeth; a thick body; and arms that are longer than its legs. Its tail is just a short stump, while its cheeks have built-in pouches that are used to store snacks for later consumption.

The adult male mandrill is about three feet tall. It has an orange-yellow beard and a large head that is topped with shaggy, brown hair. Its long, bluish-white snout has a striking, bright red streak right down the middle.

The male mandrill also has incredibly long teeth, which it bares as a warning to predators. Due to their large size, mandrills have few predators in their natural environment. The leopard is the main predator of the mandrill, although young mandrills needto watch out for large snakes and birds of prey, too. A mandrill can live for an average of twenty-eight years in the wild.

Unique Traits

The monkey is considered to be one of the most intelligent animals on Earth. Many monkey species display complex social behaviors in their daily lives, from the way they care for their young to their usage of basic tools in order to obtain food for themselves.

Monkeys use facial expressions, body movements, and noises called vocalizations, to communicate with one another. Staring, for instance, is a threat in monkey communities. Grinning or showing the teeth signals aggression or anger, while grooming is a sign of friendship and peace. Vocalizations can be quite complex, and are often used to warn other monkeys of predators nearby. There is research that suggests that some monkey species have developed methods of putting together phrases and are actually able to “talk” to one another!

There are organizations that train certain species of monkeys, such as the white-faced capuchin, to be “monkey helpers,” in order to assist quadriplegics and other people with mobility impairments. After being raised in a human home as an infant, the monkey will then undergo extensive training before being placed with a quadriplegic. Once the monkey has been trained, it helps out around the house by doing tasks such as microwaving food and opening drink bottles!

The traits of the white-faced capuchin are quite fascinating. Because of its particular eating habits, creative use of tools, and complex social structures, it is considered to be the most intelligent of the New World monkeys. One way the white-faced capuchin exhibits its intelligence is when searching for food; it looks under logs and foliage for insects, and can be seen squeezing andsmelling fruit to check if it is ripe. It also uses stones and twigs to pry open shellfish, in order to get to the meat inside.

Torah Talk

The Gemara in Berachot (58b) teaches that one must recite a blessing upon seeing certain unusual creatures; specifically singled out as “unusual creatures” are monkeys and elephants. These rulings are codified by the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:12–13) and by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 225:8, 10), which states that the blessing to be recited upon seeing unusual creatures is “Meshaneh Habriyot – Who has altered the creations.” In practical halachah, Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Sefer Yalkut Yosef, Volume 3, 225:21) rules that one should recite the beracha of “Meshaneh Habriyot” upon seeing a monkey or an elephant.

The obvious question is: why are monkeys and elephants the only animals to be singled out as being “unusual creations”? Certainly, there are countless other animals that have their own unique and often strange appearances!

The reason only these two animals are singled out for this beracha is as follows:

The midrashim (Beresheet Rabbah 38) tell us that the sin of Migdal Bavel was a conspiracy made among the people to rebel against their Creator. Hashem punished the people by scattering them across the planet in order to break their unity, which had turned to evil.

Among those who sinned, however, there were different groups, each of which was punished differently. Those who had wanted to sit quietly atop the tower they had built were dispersed all over the world. Those who had intended to use the tower for idolatry lost their common language and unity. Those who had wished to use the tower to do battle against Hashem were changed into monkeys and demons (Sanhedrin 109a).

As for the elephants, the Melechet Shlomo Kil’ayim (8:6) teaches that in the generation of the Mabul, some of the people of the generation turned into monkeys, and some people turned into elephants.

It is for this reason that the halachah says that when one sees a monkey or an elephant, he should recite a special blessing to the One “Who has altered the creations” – since these animals came about as a result of the creations being changed!