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A Naked Ape

Take a look at this picture. At first glance, it looks remarkably human, doesn't it?

Now, take a look at the undoctored version. Not too much different, huh?

I still marvel at the people who don't consider us as just another ape, and can't see how the other apes and us all evolved from a common ancestor.


Nice picture. Of course human evolved from an ape, but that does not make us an ape. In fact, all living things on earth evolved from a single celled organism, a bacterium in fact. Should we then call ourselves bacteria? Keep in mind that apes themselves evolved from an Old World monkey. So, we should call apes monkeys then?

Reading over this reply one last time before posting it, I realize that it's a little bit basic for somebody who already understands these concepts. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, but I'm leaving all that basic info in for the sake of other readers.

Of course, the nomenclature makes no difference to the reality of what's happened, but it's still fun to argue over. And just by the nature of common descent with gradual change, there are going to be grey areas when we try to classify organisms into groups, especially considering that many of our common names for organisms were based on superficial similarities rather than phylogeny (for example, when people still called bats birds or called whales fish).

Actually, fish are a good example. We all know what we mean by fish, but a lot of those lineages split a long time ago. For example, we consider sharks, salmon, and coelocanths to all be fish. But if you look at a family tree, the common ancestor of all those fish lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Plus, if you looked at their relatives, you'd find that all of us tetrapods are in the same lineage as coelocanths. Does that make us highly specialized lobe finned fish? I don't think most people would consider us any type of fish, which makes fish a polyphyletic group.

I'll bring up another example - penguins. They can't fly. They swim underwater. They don't have anything resembling flight feathers on their wings. Yet we still call them birds. So, bird is a monophyletic group.

Humans are definitely in the ape lineage. Chimpanzees and bonobos are most closely related to each other, but after that, they're more closely related to us humans than to any other ape. So, when it comes to the question of what should be called an ape, we have to decide if 'ape' should be a polyphyletic or monophyletic term. Is it more like 'fish', or more like 'bird'? I still stand by calling humans just another ape. That was the whole point of the pictures for comparison. We're just not all that different from chimps and bonobos. Here's another way to look at it. Consider how different chimps are from orangutans, vs. how similar chimps are to us. If you're going to lump chimps and orangutans into one group, I think you ought to be including humans in that same group.

Regarding your question on whether apes should be called old world monkeys, I've been giving that some thought recently, and I think you're right. I used to be the type who parroted what I learned at school, that apes don't have tails, so therefore they're not monkeys. But really, apes are just a small subset of old world monkeys. And it is in line with the way most people use the term, anyway.

So, we're apes, which also makes us old world monkeys, which also makes us primates, mammals, tetrapods, vertebrates, metazoans, eukaryotes, etc.

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