Curious George is called a “little monkey” in all of the Curious George literature, TV shows, and movies. But Curious George has no tail, and generally, that means you are an ape. But, there is one monkey with no tail, or at least one that is vestigial and not visible: The Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus). For this reason, some have suggested that George is a monkey, specificaly, a Barbary Macaque or perhaps a close previously undiscovered species.

However, one of the main features distinguishing between monkeys and apes is the intermembral index. This is simply the relative proportion of the forelimbs and hind limbs. Apes have short legs and long arms (unless you are a Man in a Yellow Hat variety of ape) while monkeys have more even length limbs. The image above compares a young Chimpanzee to stand in for the apes, a Barbary Macaque, and Curious George, with the limb lengths marked off with a red line.

This seems to indicate the George is an Ape.

Also, note that the Man in the Yellow Hat originally kidnapped George in a Jungle.

There is another possibility, that Curious George is an undiscovered type of primate that is technically a Monkey but with certain Ape features. We are not certain of the genetic heritage of the mysterious ape Sungudogo, so perhaps George is one of those.

Note that these comparisons are being made among Old World Primates. If New World Primates are included in the mix, there may end up being more questions than answers.

Comments

  1. #1 Helga Vierich
    Alberta.
    May 19, 2014

    No tail? Ape.

  2. #2 Physicalist
    May 19, 2014

    Thank you for addressing this. It’s been bugging me for years.

  3. #3 Maria
    May 19, 2014

    you know, I always wondered why George didn’t have a tail while all the other little monkeys in the zoo he visited did have tails!

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    May 19, 2014

    Exactly!

  5. #5 Richard Chapman
    May 19, 2014

    My family had a Macaque when I was growing up. I don’t know which kind. I don’t remember any kind of tail on Oscar. Maybe a short little stub. I do remember learning how to groom him. I was the only one to do that with him. I didn’t know what it was or that it was a social function but I saw him doing it to himself. I must have felt sorry for him. After my experience growing up with a monkey for a pet I seriously discourage anyone from having one.

    They are extremely smart and they know the “score”. You can’t fool them. They also carry a grudge and will “get back at you” the first chance they get. One, of many examples. We had a gateway to our property that didn’t have a gate. Just two posts. We chained Oscar to one of the posts in the good weather. He would loop his chain around the other post and wait for one of us to run by. At the proper moment he would pull the chain, thereby tripping the hapless human.

    There were other “tricks” with carefully placed feces. And one hilarious moment when he ran around my brother’s foot trailing his chain while it was getting shorter and shorter. My brother was laughing at the “dumb” monkey running around while kicking his foot attempting to shake the chain off. In a moment the chain reached it’s limit and Oscar was sitting on my brothers bare foot. My brother, no longer laughing, was still trying to shake the chain off but at this point chain and monkey were one with my brother’s foot. It was at this time that Oscar chose to take a crap. My brother was helpless. He was kicking his leg but it was useless. Oscar had him right where he wanted him.

    We didn’t keep score but if we did I think Oscar would have come out ahead. Don’t get a monkey for a pet unless you expect him to make a fool of you.

  6. #6 Andrew C. Holmes
    Canada
    May 19, 2014

    The Crested Black Macaque (Macca nigra) doesn’t really have much for a tail either. However, they have black fur, black skin, a similar intermembral index to M. sylvanus, and they don’t look like George at all. So, that probably rules them out too.

    I favor the hypothesis that George is an ape, but probably a juvenile based on the low degree of prognathism he exhibits.

  7. #7 John S Wilkins
    May 19, 2014

    Given the light coloured face, I suggest George is a common chimp, which means the Man is going to have some real problems when George gets to be about 5, unless he’s been neutered.

  8. #8 anthrosciguy
    May 19, 2014

    The reason Curious George is difficult to classify is that he is obviously a young Mangani, that species of ape found in Burrough’s Tarzan books.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    May 19, 2014

    .. which is related to Sungudogo.

  10. #10 Junglepete
    the Everglades
    May 19, 2014

    The only reason anyone calls him a monkey is because they are a moron. He has not tail. He’s an ape. And so are you.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    May 19, 2014

    “Given the light coloured face, I suggest George is a common chimp, which means the Man is going to have some real problems when George gets to be about 5, unless he’s been neutered.”

    I’m not sure the Man with the Yellow Hat is going to go for being neutered.

  12. #12 Art
    May 20, 2014

    On first blush I suspect that the lack of a tail is a result of Hans Augusto Rey and Margret Rey both having difficulty drawing them. Limbs move in predictable ways and getting a simian pose right is conceptual easy to master. But tails, lacking easy to define rules and having utility in both form, like expressing mood or dominance, and function as both balance and gripper are harder to draw in and make look natural.

    There is also the structure of the book intended for children. Without a tail Curious George is easy for a child to relate to. Add a tail and children might not so easily see themselves in CG.

    Chalk the lack of a tail up to artistic license and simplification of the graphics.

  13. #13 Angela
    Sacramento
    May 20, 2014

    He’s a Bonobo.

  14. #14 Dr. Todd C. Rae
    United Kingdom
    May 20, 2014

    I like that you measured intermembral index, but you ignored hand posture. Only _Pan_ and _Gorilla_ among the extant primates knuckle-walk, which CG is clearly doing in the picture provided. No monkey holds their hands in such a position during locomotion. Case closed.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    May 20, 2014

    Interesting adaptive explanation, Art.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    May 20, 2014

    Dr. Rae, excellent point.

    Angela, could be, but while common chimps have a light face bonobos have a dark face.

  17. #17 Calli Arcale
    May 20, 2014

    I really think you should write this up in a manner similar to the talk about the correct classification of Grandicrocavis viasesamiensis. ;-)

    http://www.pechakucha.org/presentations/what-if-anything-is-big-bird

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    May 20, 2014

    I was thinking of doing something more formal and sumbitting it to JIR

  19. #19 Sally V
    Santa Cruz, CA
    July 24, 2014

    It’s animated fiction for goodness sake. The great thing about it is all of you who noticed and questioned it. Accidental he is called a monkey when obviously an ape, I think not. Food for thought. The disturbing thing to me is after every show on PBS they have a classroom of kids 5-7 yo summarize the cartoon and the first sentence is always “George is a monkey, he can do things that you and I can’t”
    True that, he can also do things other monkeys can’t because he isn’t a real monkey…….he’s just a cartoon (but what awesome cartoon monkey he is!)

  20. #20 Alex
    September 13, 2014

    Remember that Curious George first came out in 1939. What I read once said that back then the term ‘ape’ wasn’t commonly used. So, I guess, for tradition’s sake, they just kept calling him a monkey.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    September 13, 2014

    The word “ape” has always been more common in relation to the number of ape species than has the word “monkey”!

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=ape%2C+monkey&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cape%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cmonkey%3B%2Cc0

  22. #22 Miyo Pinion
    BC Canada
    November 1, 2014

    I imagine the ironically named Curious George is the product of an era when folks actually weren’t curious enough – even cartoon writers – to actually care whether animals where properly classified. Monkeys were apes, whales were fish, gay men in yellow suits were simple bachelors, and it was ethically OK to kidnap species from their habitat to keep as pets

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    November 1, 2014

    I don’t think he’s gay, because he has an obvious crush on the director of the museum. He is way out of her league of course but she find him cute. I think George is secretly set on interfering with their relationship developing because he is obviously addicted to attention.

  24. #24 Rich
    United States
    November 12, 2014

    It could be that at the time the stories were written the writer was ignorant and did not know the difference between apes and monkeys. I know when I was a child I thought Chimps were monkeys. So maybe he drew a chimp but thought it was a monkey.

  25. #25 Shalom
    United States
    November 16, 2014

    The story I heard, is that George originally had a tail in the preliminary drawings, but the first story featuring him (“Rafi et les neuf singes”, translated as Cecily Giraffe and the Nine Monkeys) had, as the title indicates, eight other monkeys in it, and between the giraffe’s neck and the nine monkeys’ tails, the drawings were beginning to resemble a plate of spaghetti, so the artist simply eliminated the tails and Zozo (er, George) has lacked a tail ever since.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2014

    Shalom, interesting idea. There is no evidence to support it, unfortunately. Neither Zozo nor george, including George as introduced in Rafi et les neuf singes, are ever show with a tail. Do you have any references to this that would constitute proof, an old drawing, interview with the illustrator, something?

    It is an interesting idea and a reasonable hypothesis but I wonder…

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2014

    Rich, I’d say that is a good probability.

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