MonkeyPro Information Repository
Topic: Primate Diet and Feeding

Primates exploit a variety of food sources. It has been said that many characteristics of modern primates, including humans, derive from an early ancestor's practice of taking most of its food from the tropical canopy. Most primates include fruit in their diets to obtain easily digested carbohydrates and lipids for energy. However, they require other foods, such as leaves or insects, for amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Primates in the main suborder Strepsirrhini (non-tarsier prosimians) are able to synthesize vitamin C, while primates of the suborder of Haplorrhini (tarsiers, monkeys and apes) have lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C, and require it in the diet.

Many primates have anatomical specializations that enable them to exploit particular foods, such as fruit, leaves, gum or insects. For example, leaf eaters such as howler monkeys, black-and-white colobuses and sportive lemurs have extended digestive tracts which enable them to absorb nutrients from leaves that can be difficult to digest. Marmosets, which are gum eaters, have strong incisor teeth, enabling them to open tree bark to get to the gum, and claws rather than nails, enabling them to cling to trees while feeding. The Aye-aye combines rodent-like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It taps on trees to find insect larvae, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its elongated middle finger to pull the larvae out. Some species have additional specializations. For example, the Grey-cheeked Mangabey has thick enamel on its teeth, enabling it to open hard fruits and seeds that other monkeys cannot.

The Gelada is the only primate species that feeds primarily on grass. Tarsiers are the only extant obligate carnivorous primates, exclusively eating insects, crustaceans, small vertebrates and snakes (including venomous species). Capuchin monkeys, on the other hand, can exploit many different types of food, including fruit, leaves, flowers, buds, nectar, seeds, insects and other invertebrates, bird eggs, and small vertebrates such as birds, lizards, squirrels and bats. The Common Chimpanzee has a varied diet that includes predation on other primate species, such as the Western Red Colobus monkey