Scientists Say: Hominid

These primates include you and me — and maybe chimps too

a photo of a human hand and a chimp hand reaching for each other

Humans are hominids. But are chimps? It depends on who you ask.

Picture by Tambako the Jaguar/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Hominid (noun, “HAH-mih-nid”)

A hominid is a type of primate that belongs to the family Hominidae (Ho-MIN-ih-dee). In taxonomy, a family is a group that includes more than one genus, or group of closely related species. All scientists agree that we — human beings — are hominids. Our recent but extinct relatives, such as Neandertals, also are hominids. 

Some scientists define hominids as being apes that walk on two legs. That would mean that only humans and our upright-walking relatives qualify. It also would mean that all of our other family members are extinct.

But recent studies of genes have shown that orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas are very closely related to us. They could count as hominids, too. That would mean we still have primate family members around. This is something scientists are debating right now. Some researchers say hominid refers only to humans and our upright ancestors. Others see hominids as a bigger group that includes other great apes.

In a sentence

The hominid Homo naledi may have walked the planet with early humans — only 300,000 years ago.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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