Comparative and functional myology of the prehensile tail in New World monkeys

J Morphol. 1995 Jun;224(3):351-68. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1052240308.


The caudal myology of prehensile-tailed monkeys (Cebus apella, Alouatta palliata, Alouatta seniculus, Lagothrix lagotricha, and Ateles paniscus) and nonprehensile-tailed primates (Eulemur fulvus, Aotus trivirgatus, Callithrix jacchus, Pithecia pithecia, Saimiri sciureus, Macaca fascicularis, and Cercopithecus aethiops) was examined and compared in order to identify muscular differences that correlate with osteological features diagnostic of tail prehensility. In addition, electrophysiological stimulation was carried out on different segments of the intertransversarii caudae muscle of an adult spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) to assess their action on the prehensile tail. Several important muscular differences characterize the prehensile tail of New World monkeys compared to the nonprehensile tail of other primates. In atelines and Cebus, the mass of extensor caudae lateralis and flexor caudae longus muscles is more uniform along the tail, and their long tendons cross a small number of vertebrae before insertion. Also, prehensile-tailed monkeys, especially atelines, are characterized by well-developed flexor and intertransversarii caudae muscles compared to nonprehensile-tailed primates. Finally, Ateles possesses a bulkier abductor caudae medialis and a more cranial origin for the first segment of intertransversarii caudae than do other prehensile-tailed platyrrhines. These myological differences between nonprehensile-tailed and prehensile-tailed primates, and among prehensile-tailed monkeys, agree with published osteological and behavioral data. Caudal myological similarities and differences found in Cebus and atelines, combined with tail-use data from the literature, support the hypothesis that prehensile tails evolved in parallel in Cebus and atelines.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology
  • Cebidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Cebus / anatomy & histology
  • Dissection
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Tail / anatomy & histology*
  • Tail / physiology