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Geographical Index > United States > (International) > Article # 183

Media Article # 183
Article submitted by Richard Noll

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Wonderquest responses

By April Holladay
USA Today

Q: Do other primates, such as apes, chimps, and monkeys, also have fingerprints? If so, are they also unique to that individual?

A: Yes to your first question and yes to the second, and, even more surprising-some monkeys have fingerprints on their tails.

"All primates have fingerprints on hands and feet, and a few New World monkeys have them on their prehensile tails as well," says Jeff Froehlich, Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. No other mammal has fingerprints, only we primates do. The non-human primate fetus develops fingerprints as a human does, during the first trimester of gestation.

Drill monkey: a gregarious, powerful, stout-bodied quadruped with vividly colored buttocks. The drill used to live from Nigeria to Cameroon but has retreated from encroaching civilization to remote Cameroon forests. A ferocious fighter if molested. (The Primate Gallery)

According to Froehlich, there is just enough "noise" in the genetic system (fetal position, cleavage of the egg in twins, etc.) so all individuals are unique, although identical twins are about 95 percent alike. Froehlich uses the fingerprints of primates he studies to classify them and examine their evolutionary relationships. Based largely on their fingerprints, he has just categorized and named a new monkey species in Indonesia.

Ken Gander, Director of the Duke University Primate Center, has been studying the same population of mantled howling monkeys in Costa Rica since 1970. He has collected about 500 nonhuman fingerprints during the past 30 years, using the same material and technique the police use to take fingerprints. "In fact," he says, "I order my fingerprinting supplies from the police supply house."

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