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What is a Vervet Monkey?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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A vervet monkey or Chlorocebus pygerythrus is an African monkey found in many regions of South Africa. In some parts of South Africa, the vervet monkey is treated as a pest, because it can be destructive to crops and disruptive to urban life, as the monkeys enjoy going through garbage and they will fearlessly steal from market stalls and grocery stores. These monkeys are well established and they do not appear to be under threat, also increasing habitat pressures could become an issue.

You may also hear the vervet monkey referred to as a green monkey. These monkeys are smaller than the average monkey, with black faces, hands, feet, and tail tips. Their fur has a greenish tinge, and it may be greenish-brown to greenish gray, with creamy highlights. Like other monkeys, the vervet monkey has very agile and flexible hands, and these creatures have demonstrated remarkable degrees of intelligence.

Most vervets live in troops, which can range in size from 10 individuals to over 50. Within a troop of vervet monkeys, there is a very specific social hierarchy which is rigidly followed, although this hierarchy can be disturbed through fights and other power plays. The members of the troop communicate with each other through a series of extremely complex vocalizations, including very specific alarm calls. Some biologists have suggested that the vocalizations of the vervet monkey closely resemble human languages, with complex layers of meaning.

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The vervet monkey is diurnal, resting at night and foraging for food during the day. Most vervets rely heavily on a diet of fruit, but they will also eat seeds, nuts, leaves, insects, and some small mammals. This flexible diet allows the monkeys to adapt to changing environments, and unfortunately for African farmers, the vervet monkey has developed a taste for many valuable crops.

These African primates were apparently once spread widely across the continent, as they were clearly known to the Egyptians. Several subspecies have been identified, suggesting that the vervet monkeys diverged at some point in recent history, but as a general rule, all vervets seem to prefer the environment of the African savanna, sticking to the areas with trees. Many vervets spend most of their lives in trees, presumably because the arboreal environment is far safer than the ground.

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