Harrison, Terry Department of Anthropology, Paleoanthropology Laboratory, New York University, New York, New York.
Last reviewed:May 2019
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Any member of the mammalian order (Primates) to which humans, monkeys, and apes belong. Primates other than humans are generally arboreal mammals (living in trees) [Fig. 1] with a geographic distribution restricted largely to the tropics. Unlike most other mammalian orders, the members of the taxonomic order Primates cannot be defined by a diagnostic suite of specializations, but are characterized by a combination of primitive features and progressive trends. These include (1) increased dominance of vision over olfaction (the sense of smell), with eyes more frontally directed, development of stereoscopic vision, and reduction in the length of the snout; (2) eye sockets of the skull completely encircled by bone; (3) loss of an incisor and premolar from each half of the upper and lower jaws with respect to primitive placental mammals; (4) increased size and complexity of the brain, especially those centers involving vision, memory, and learning; (5) development of grasping hands and feet, with a tendency to use the hands rather than the snout as the primary exploratory and manipulative organ; (6) progressive elaboration of the placenta in conjunction with a longer gestation period, small litter size (only one or two infants), and precocial young; (7) increased period of infant dependency and more intensive parenting; and (8) a tendency to live in complex, long-lasting social groups. See also: Mammalia; Social mammals; Sociobiology
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