If Humans Evolved from Monkeys, Why Do Monkeys Still Exist?


A common question in the realm of evolution is, “If humans evolved, why are there still monkeys?”

This question stems from a misunderstanding of how evolution works.

The truth is, humans did not evolve from modern-day monkeys.

Instead, both humans and monkeys share a common ancestor.

This shared ancestor lived approximately 25 million years ago.

To break this down further, think of the common ancestor as a species from which both modern monkeys and humans diverged.

This means that at some point in the distant past, there was a population of primates from which two distinct evolutionary paths emerged—one leading to modern monkeys and the other to humans.

The Evidence: Fossils and DNA

This relationship is supported by both fossil records and genetic analysis.

For instance, a 2007 study revealed that humans and rhesus monkeys share about 93% of their DNA.

By examining these genetic similarities and differences, scientists estimate that humans and rhesus monkeys split from their common ancestor around 25 million years ago.

The fossil record also supports this view.

Fossils of ancient primates, such as one discovered in Myanmar in 2009 and dated to about 37 million years ago, provide physical evidence of the ancestors common to both monkeys and humans.

These fossils help scientists understand the characteristics and timeline of our shared evolutionary history.

Closer Cousins: Chimpanzees and Other Apes

Humans are more closely related to chimpanzees and other great apes than to monkeys.

However, this does not mean humans evolved directly from chimpanzees.

Genetic studies show that humans and chimpanzees share between 98% and 99% of their DNA.

This high degree of similarity indicates that the evolutionary paths of humans and chimpanzees diverged around 6 million years ago.

Evolution is Not Linear

A significant misunderstanding about evolution is the belief that it is a linear process where one species evolves directly into another.

In reality, evolution is more accurately described as a branching process.

Imagine a tree where each branch represents a different species.

From one common trunk (ancestor), various branches (species) grow in different directions.

Dr. Paul Willis, a paleontologist and director of Raus, addresses this misunderstanding with an analogy to human families.

He explains that asking why monkeys still exist if humans evolved from them is like asking how you can share common grandparents with your cousins if your grandparents and cousins are still alive.

The answer lies in understanding that your grandparents had multiple children, who then started their own families, creating new branches of the family tree.

Similarly, in evolution, a species can split into multiple descendant species, each evolving separately over time.

Branching Evolution: An Ongoing Process

This branching nature of evolution means that at any given time, there can be multiple species existing simultaneously, all descended from a common ancestor but each following its own evolutionary path.

For example, while humans and chimpanzees share a recent common ancestor, both species have continued to evolve independently since their paths diverged around 6 million years ago.


In summary, humans did not evolve directly from monkeys.

Instead, humans and monkeys share a common ancestor from which both species diverged.

This branching process of evolution, supported by fossil evidence and genetic studies, explains why monkeys are still around today.

Evolution is not a straight line but a complex tree with many branches, each representing different species that have evolved over millions of years.

Understanding this helps clarify the true nature of our evolutionary history and the ongoing process that continues to shape the diversity of life on Earth.