Thanks to folks like Curious George, we're all prone to believe that monkeys' favorite food in the entire world is bananas. I mean, even Ben & Jerry's came up with the name of "Chunky Monkey" for their nutty banana flavor because they assumed monkeys were fans of the fruit, right? But that begs the question: Do monkeys eat bananas? Or is this just a lie we all believe to be fact?

The Moment of Truth

Turns out, monkeys actually do not eat bananas, as we know them, at least. According to Dr. Katharine Milton, a professor of physical anthropology at UC Berkeley who has spent decades studying how primates eat, it's a "total fabrication." 

Actually, the edible banana that we all like to mix with peanut butter is a cultivated domestic plant that monkeys would never even encounter in the wild unless they're around human habitations where bananas have been planted.

Bananas Are Like Candy for Monkeys

Apparently, bananas are like a highly-coveted treat for our monkey friends, similar to kids craving a slice of chocolate cake (aka my sister). Monkeys do actually eat fruits similar to the bananas we know and love, but they're quite different than the grocery store-kind built for humans to consume. Wild bananas contain a lot of hard seeds and little fruit one could actually eat. 

Unfortunately, bananas from the local Trader Joe's are just too sweet for primates. Some zoos have even banned feeding monkeys bananas because they can cause damage to their teeth and lead to diabetes.

So What Do Monkeys Eat in the Wild?

Generally, they do eat fruits, like figs, but also seeds, leaves, flowers, insects, and nuts. Gelada monkeys prefer to munch on grass and baboons even eat meat when they catch it such as young antelope, rabbits, and birds like guinea fowl. Personally, I'd prefer bananas.

And What About at the Zoo?

When given a choice for their diets, monkeys will certainly choose bananas as a snack, but only second to grapes. Lately though, zoos like Paignton Zoo in Devon, U.K. have started to ween monkeys off their banana affinity to instead incorporate more leafy greens and vegetables into their diets. Promoted by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, these vegetables are just as nutritious as the fruit monkeys consume in the wild and are much healthier options for their diets.

The problem is, monkeys aren't used to or built for the sugar levels found in bananas that humans need to go about their days. But that doesn't mean our bananas are any less satisfying, if not more so — monkeys "relish" eating them when they're exposed to them. So, do monkeys actually eat bananas? Yes, as a treat in zoos. But in the wild, they eat a variation far from the likes of those you'd find at your local Whole Foods.