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Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History & Nomenclature

Common names

  • Numerous
    • Chlorocebus spp. often collectively referred to as vervets or grivets (Grubb 2006; Primate Info Net)
      • Members of Chlorocebus also referred to as savanna monkeys or green monkeys (Groves and Kingdon 2013; Mittermeier et al. 2013)
  • C. pygerythrus (see Grubb 2006 for a complete list)
    • Vervet, common vervet
    • Vervet grivet or monkey
    • Black-chinned and black-faced vervet
    • Bukoba green, desert tumbuli, and southern vervet monkey
    • Yellow monkey
  • Etymology
    • Vervet, origin unclear; perhaps a shortening of two French words "vert grivet" meaning "a green grivet" (Gove 1993)
    • Grivet, origin unknown

Scientific name

  • Taxonomy in flux (see Groves and Kingdon 2013; Grubb 2006; Grubb et al. 2003)
    • This fact sheet classifies vervets as those designated under C. pygerythrus
  • Etymology
    • Chlorocebus from two Greek words, chloro- meaning "green" and -cebus meaning "a long-tailed monkey" (Brown 1956)
    • pygerythrus from two Greek words, pyga- meaning "rump" and -erythr or -erythro meaning "red" (Gove 1993)
  • Synonyms
    • Cercopithecus aethiops; including various subspecies (Grubb et al. 2003)
      • Previous genera, recently updated to Chlorocebus(Groves and Kingdon 2013)
        • Cercopithecus genus preferred over Chlorocebus by some scientists (see Grubb 2006 and argument by Isbell and Jaffe in Groves and Kingdon 2013)
      • C. a. pygerythrus, C. a. aenarius, C. a. callidus, C. a. centralis, C. a. cloetei, C. a. excubitor, C. a. helvescens, C. a. johnstoni, C. a. marjoriae, C. a. nesiotes, C. a. ngamiensis, C. a. reubellus, C. a. rufoviridis, C. a. whytei, and C. a. zavattarii (Grubb et al. 2003)
    • Comprehensive genetic studies needed to determine phylogeny (Groves and Kingdon 2013)
      • Newer, Chlorocebus, designation contingent on further research

Evolutionary History

Subfamily: Cercopithecinae

  • Cheek-pouched monkeys
    • Elastic buccal sacs, enable storage of rapidly gathered food items for later processing (Kingdon and Groves 2013)
  • Divided into two tribes: Papionini and Cercopithecini
    • Tribe Cercopithecini divided into 6 genera and c.36 species (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
      • Divergence within the clade began c. 9 million years ago (mya) (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
      • Most evolutionary radiation probably occurred within the last 1 million years (Butynski 2002)

Genus Chlorocebus (summarized from Groves and Kingdon 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Green or savanna monkeys
  • Origin and diversification
    • Clade likely diverged from an ancestral Cercopithecini c. 4.8 mya, based on genetic analyses (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • No fossil record to extrapolate evolutionary history within the group
      • Initial genetic data suggests radiation may have occurred c. 1-2 mya (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
  • Hybridization between species likely, especially where ranges overlap(Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • Natural hybrids
      • Vervet (C. pygerythrus) with Sykes's monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), Kenya; species have different chromosome numbers (2n=60 and 72 respectively) (de Jong and Butynski 2010)
      • Vervet (C. pygerythrus) with grivet (C. aethiops) and tantalus (C. tantalus) (de Jong and Butynski 2010)
    • Captive hybrids
      • Vervet (C. pygerythrus) with patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas); species have different chromosome numbers (2n=60 and 54 respectively) (Matsubayashi et al. 1978)
      • Vervet (C. pygerythrus) with green monkey (C. sabaeus) and grivet (C. aethiops) (de Jong and Butynski 2010)
      • Vervet (C. pygerythrus) with toque (Macaca sinica), bonnet (M. radiata), and crab-eating macaques (M. fascicularis) (de Jong and Butynski 2010)
  • Close affinity to the patas (Erythrocebus patas) and mountain (Allochrocebus preussi) monkeys(Groves and Kingdon 2013; Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • Based on cranial morphology

Species Chlorocebus pygerythrus

  • 5 subspecies or forms (Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013; Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • C. p. excubitor, C. p. hilgerti, C. p. nesiotes, C. p. pygerythrus, and C. p. rufoviridis
    • Dwarf form, C. p. excubitor, an inhabitant of islands in the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria

Cultural History

African culture and myth

  • Seldom include vervets (Cheney and Seyfarth 1990)

Artistic appearances

  • Minoan frescoes in Knossos, Crete (from Cheney and Seyfarth 1990)
    • Depict vervet-like monkeys; c. 1500 BCE
  • Monkeys appear in many Medieval manuscripts
    • An image of a vervet-like monkey in a border surround of an image in Splendor Solis (an alchemical treatise) by Salomon Trismosin (1582)

Exploited by humans

  • Chlorocebus spp. captured and exported for thousands of years (Butynski and Kingdon 2013)

Subjects of research on human evolution, physiology, disease, and pharmacology

  • Model animals to investigate evolution of locomotion and social learning (Elton 2007; Hurov 1987; Isbell et al. 1998a)
  • Model animals in medical research and human disease; due to physiological similarities
    • In vitro methods recently more common; older research relied more heavily on living individuals
      • Account for >90% of all 2001 published studies involving Chlorocebus (Carlsson et al. 2004)
      • Cell lines commonly used in studies of HIV/AIDS (Carlsson et al. 2004)
      • Research areas include: pharmacology/toxicology, microbiology, neuroscience, and infectious disease (Carlsson et al. 2004; CCNPILAR 1975)


Classification according to ITIS 2014; Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe 2013; Mittermeier et al. 2013

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Infraclass: Eutheria

Order: Primates

Family: Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys)

Subfamily: Cercopithecinae (cheek-pouched monkeys: baboons, macaques, mangabeys, mandrills, gelada, talapoins, green monkeys, and guenons)

Tribe: Cercopithecini (talapoins, green monkeys, guenons, and their relatives)

Genus: Chlorocebus (green or savanna monkeys)

Species: Chlorocebus pygerythrus (Cuvier, 1821) - vervet monkey

Subspecies: C. p. excubitor (Schwarz, 1926) - Wittu Islands or Manda vervet

Subspecies: C. p. hilgerti (Neumann, 1902) - Hilgert's vervet

Subspecies: C. p. nesiotes (Schwarz, 1926) - Pemba vervet

Subspecies: C. p. pygerythrus (Cuvier, 1821) - black-chinned or southern vervet

Subspecies: C. p. rufoviridis (Saint-Hilaire, 1843) - reddish-green vervet


*[Species: Chlorocebus aethiops (Linnaeus, 1758) - common grivet; including grivet, green, malbrouck, tantalus, and vervet*

Species: Chlorocebus cynosuros (Scopoli, 1786) - malbrouck monkey

Species: Chlorocebus djamdjamensis (Neumann, 1902) - Bale Mountains grivet

Species: Chlorocebus sebaeus (Linnaeus, 1766) - green monkey

Species: Chlorocebus tantalus (Ogilby, 1841) - tantalus monkey]

* Note: C. aethiops, C. cynosuros, C. djamjamensis, C. sabaeus, and C. tantalus are also referred to as vervets at times. Along with C. pygerythrus, all were previously lumped into a single species, Cercopithecus aethiops. This fact sheet classifies vervets as those designated under Chlorocebus pygerythrus. Reference articles referring to Cercopithecus aethiops or other Chlorocebus species are only included if the study population corresponds to the distribution of C. pygerythrus.

"Vervet-like" Monkey in Art

tapestry of monkeys


Monkeys commonly appear in artistic works. The above image, which includes a vervet-like monkey in the border surround, is from a 1582 book, Splendor Solis (an alchemical treatise), by Salomon Trismosin.

Image credit: Salomon Trismosin's 1582 Splendor Solis (an alchemical treatise). From the © British Library Harley Collection. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Brown (1956)
Butynski (2002)
Butynski and Kingdon (2013)
Carlsson et al. (2004)
Cheney and Seyfarth (1990)
de Jong and Butynski (2010)
Elton (2007)
Gove (1993)
Grubb (2006)
Grubb et al. (2003)
Hurov (1987)
Isbell and Enstam-Jaffe (2013)
Isbell et al. (1998a)
ITIS (2014)
Kingdon and Groves (2013)
Matsubayashi et al. (1978)
Mittermeier et al. (2013)
Primate Info Net

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