The Naked Ape

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The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (Hardback: ISBN 0-07-043174-4; Reprint: ISBN 0-385-33430-3) is a 1967 book by zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris that looks at humans as a species and compares them to other animals. The Human Zoo, a follow-up book by Morris that examined the behaviour of people in cities, was published in 1969.


The Naked Ape, which was serialized in the Daily Mirror newspaper and has been translated into 23 languages, depicts human behavior as largely evolved to meet the challenges of prehistoric life as a hunter-gatherer (see nature versus nurture). The book was so named because out of 193 species of monkeys and apes only humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) are not covered in hair. Desmond Morris, the author, who formerly was the Curator of mammals at London Zoo, said his book was intended to popularise and demystify science.[1]

Morris said that Homo sapiens not only have the largest brains of all higher primates, but that sexual selection in human evolution has caused humans to have the highest ratio of penis size to body mass. Morris conjectured that human ear-lobes developed as an additional erogenous zone to facilitate the extended sexuality necessary in the evolution of human monogamous pair bonding. Morris further stated that the more rounded shape of human female breasts means they are mainly a sexual signalling device rather than simply for providing milk for infants.[1] Although the book's subject was the many behavioural consequences of the evolutionary transformation from forest-dwelling, mainly vegetarian creatures to carnivorous hunter-gatherers, reviewers predictably focused on the sexual aspects.

Morris attempted to frame many features of human behavior in the context of evolution at a time when cultural explanations were more orthodox. His explanations failed to convince many academics for that reason, and also partly because critics charged that they were based on a teleological (goal-oriented) understanding of evolution. For example, Morris wrote that the intense human pair bond evolved so that men who were out hunting could trust that their mates back home were not having sex with other men, and suggested the possibility that sparse body hair evolved because the "nakedness" helped intensify pair bonding by increasing tactile pleasure.[2] Like many other writers in the late 1960s and 1970s, Morris warned against the "population explosion" (a term that originated in the 1940s) in terms that seem exaggerated and apocalyptic with the hindsight of almost half a century. Overcrowding, he thought, might cause terminal damage to heretofore relatively stable social structures that humans had evolved in the long course of their development.

Film adaptations

A 1973 film directed by Donald Driver, very loosely based on the book, was made starring Johnny Crawford and Victoria Principal. In 2006, an independent film was made, based loosely on the book, written and directed by Daniel Mellitz, starring Josh Wise, Chelse Swain, Sean Shanks, Amanda MacDonald, Tony LaThanh, Corbin Bernsen. Beyond their scripts being loosely based on his book, Morris was not involved in either movie in any way.


The book was removed from high school library shelves by the board of education of the Island Trees Union Free School District in New York. This case became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1982.[3]


  • Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (Hardback: ISBN 0-07-043174-4; Reprint:ISBN 0-385-33430-3) Jonathan Cape, 1967 .
  • Corgi paperback editions, 1967, 1968, 1969.
  • Dell Publishing Co., Inc. edition 1969
  • The Illustrated Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal. Desmond Morris. Review by Janet Dunaif-Hattis. American Anthropologist. Sep 1987, Vol. 89, No. 3: 732–733.
  • Vintage; New Ed edition (6 Oct. 2005 )ISBN 0099482010

Critical response

  • John Lewis (Author), B. Towers, Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens?: Reply to Desmond Morris (The Teilhard study library), Jul 1969 ISBN 0900391219

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 BBC ON THIS DAY | 12 | 1967: The Naked Ape steps out
  2. Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. Vintage. 1995.
  3. "Island Trees Sch. Dist. v. Pico by Pico 457 U.S. 853 (1982)". Justia. Retrieved 30 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links