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Animal Reference

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Updated: 9 May 2014
(Published: 28 November 2013)



There are five subspecies of the vervet monkey Chlorocebus pygerythrus which occur in southern and eastern Africa. The vervet monkey was originally named Simia aethiops by Linnaeus in 1758 but the specific name aethiops is now only valid for the grivet monkey Chlorocebus aethiops of the Sudan. The vervet monkey has also been placed in the genus Chlorocebus that was created by Gray in 1870 because Simia is an old generic name for several other types of unrelated primate. The vervet monkey was actually first described by F Cuvier in 1821 based on a specimen that only had a location of Africa. Vervet monkeys occur from east of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia to Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, and then south to South Africa. Vervet monkeys were known in ancient Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea and mummified vervet monkeys are known from funeral tombs. The common name vervet monkey refers to the French name vervet for this species.


The adult male weighs around 5.5 kg and stands around 49 cm tall as opposed to 4 kg and 49 cm in the adult female. The heaviest known male weighed 8 kg. The coat colour varies regionally but the upper parts are grizzled grey in South Africa because the long hairs are grey at the base with alternate bands of black and yellow or white towards the tips. The face has a black mask and the forehead has a pure white inverted U-shaped band. There are long whiskers which almost cover the ear. The adult male has a red penis and a powder blue scrotum. This blue colouration is probably caused by the deposition of a deep dermal layer of melanine and allows sex differentiation in the field. There is a red patch of skin around the anus. Like the baboon, the vervet monkey has 32 permanent teeth unlike the bush baby Galago moholi, for example, that has 36 permanent teeth.

Vervet monkeys mainly inhabit savannas, are absent from grasslands with no woodland patches and they penetrate arid regions deeply along riparian woodlands that contain trees that bear fruit. However, in KwaZulu-Natal they occur in coastal forests and they occur along the southern Cape Coast as far west as Knysna. In Namibia they occur around springs in rocky hills when fruit-bearing trees grow there.

The vervet monkey is diurnal and gregarious, forming troops of up to 38 individuals with a strict social dominance order which is maintained by aggression and threat displays such as flickering eyelids. The skin of the eyelids and the area above them are paler in colour than the dark face and this creates a flickering impression when the eyebrows are lifted and dropped rapidly. Mutual grooming plays a major role in the social cohesion of the troop and usually occurs in the mid-morning after the first feeding session. Troop members with a high social ranking sleep together but separate from those of a lower ranking. The sleeping places are usually in the higher branches of tall trees, but occasionally also in rocky shelters. Activity starts at dawn and the first feeding is done before the day becomes hot. A second bout of feeding occurs in the afternoon. The troop returns to its sleeping place long before sunset. Vervet monkeys forage in trees or on the ground and the range of a troop can be as large as 80 ha, but usually varies from 20 to 30 ha. They give different alarm calls for different types of predator.

Vervet monkeys are mainly vegetarian in diet, eating the fruits, flowers, leaves and seeds of plants, although they also eat insects. An adult female vervet monkey does not show the same obvious signs of oestrus as a baboon but little is still known about reproduction in the vervet monkey. Young are born throughout the year after a gestation period of some 165 days. A newly born vervet monkey weighs from 300 to 400 g and twins are rare. The female has two pectoral mammae.

The main predators are hawks, eagles, mammal carnivores such as leopards and baboons, snakes and crocodiles which cause 50 percent of the deaths, while disease is also a common mortality factor. The higher ranked individuals are more prone to predation than the lower ranked ones. The life-expectancy in the wild is around 24 years.



Groves, C P 2005. Order Primates. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world; a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 158 - 159.

Skinner J D and C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 224 - 227.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma


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