Hominidaegreat apes and humans

Until recently, most classifications included only humans in this family; other apes were put in the family Pongidae (from which the gibbons were sometimes separated as the Hylobatidae). The evidence linking humans to gorillas and chimps has grown dramatically in the past two decades, especially with increased use of molecular techniques. It now appears that chimps, gorillas, and humans form a clade of closely related species; orangutans are slightly less close phylogenetically, and gibbons are a more distant branch. Here we follow a classification reflecting those relationships. Chimps, gorillas, humans, and orangutans make up the family Hominidae; gibbons are separated as the closely related Hylobatidae.

Thus constituted, the Hominidae includes 4 genera and 5 species. Its nonhuman members are restricted to equatorial Africa, Sumatra and Borneo. Hominid fossils date to the Miocene and are known from Africa and Asia.

Hominids range in weight from 48 kg to 270 kg. Males are larger than females. Hominids are the largest primates, with robust bodies and well-developed forearms. Their pollex and hallux are opposable except in humans, who have lost opposability of the big toe. All digits have flattened nails. No hominid has a tail, and none has ischial callosities. Numerous skeletal differences between hominids and other primates are related to their upright or semi-upright stance.

All members of this family have large braincase. Most have a prominent face and prognathous jaw; again, humans are exceptional. All are catarrhine, with nostrils close together and facing forward and downward. The dental formula is the same for all members of the group: 2/2, 1/1, 2/2, 3/3 = 32. Hominids have broad incisors and their canines are never developed into tusks. The upper molars are quadrate and bunodont; the lowers are bunodont and possess a hypoconulid. The uppers lack lophs connecting labial and lingual cusps and thus, in contrast to cercopithecids, are not bilophodont.

Hominids are omnivorous, primarily frugivorous or folivorous. All but humans are good climbers, but only the orangutan is really arboreal.

Members of this family are well-known for the complexity of their social behavior. Facial expression and complex vocalizations play an important role in the behavior of hominids. All make and use nests. Hominids generally give birth to a single young, and the period of parental care is extended.

Technical characters

Literature and references cited

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Groves, C. P. 1989. A Theory of Human and Primate Evolution. Oxford Science Publications, Clarendon Press, Oxford. xii+375 pp.

Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, Fourth edition. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, London.

Szalay, F. S., and E. Dodson. 1979. Evolutionary History of the Primates. Academic Press, New York. xiv+580 pp.

Thorington, R. W., Jr., and S. Anderson. 1984. Primates. Pp. 187-216 in Anderson, S. and J. K. Jones, Jr. (eds). Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, N.Y. xii+686 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. 3rd Edition. Saunders College Publishing.vii+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate