3chimps - Hominoid Psychology Research Group

Bonobos and Chimpanzees are BOTH our closest relatives

Both species are members of the "chimpanzee" genus Pan and both represent our species closest living relative. How can humans have two closest relatives? Similar to how two aunts or cousins are different from one another but equal in their genetic relation to you.

Bonobos and Chimpanzees both share close to 98% of their genome in common with humans, meaning that their genomes are more similar to that of humans than they are to that of gorillas. Surprise! Even though they appear to be more similar to gorillas they are more closely related to us.

 

Our two closest relatives are also different from each other

Even though the two species are equally related to humans, the two species differ from each other in important ways that can help us understand our own species evolution. Bonobos and chimpanzees diverged from each other < 1 million years ago and differ significantly in morphology, behavior, emotions and cognition.

The Bonobo

Bonobos are female dominant, with females forming tight bonds against males through same-sex socio-sexual contact that is thought to limit aggression. In the wild, they have not been seen to cooperatively hunt, use tools, or exhibit lethal aggression.

The Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are male dominant, with intense aggression between different groups that can be lethal. Chimpanzees use tools, cooperatively hunt monkeys, and will even eat the infants of other chimpanzee groups.

BELOW IS A DETAILED COMPARISON OF THE TWO SPECIES: 

Species

Bonobos

(Pan paniscus)

Chimpanzees

(Pan troglodytes)

Morphology slender build, bright pink lips, black face, smaller and juvenilzed brain case in males robust build, face color changes with age, dark lips
Natural Distribution
only endemic to Democratic Republic of Congo in Congo Basin south of the Congo River (no subspecies) 3 subspecies distributed Across East, Central and West Africa in over a dozen countries. Only found North of Congo River in Democratic Republic of Congo
Sexual Dimorphism less sexual dimorphism more sexual dimorphism
Social Organization

fission-fusion societies

typically larger daily party size than chimpanzees

live in 'communities' of multiple males and females and their offspring

mother-son and female-female bonds very important

fission-fusion societies

live in 'communities' of multiple males and females and their offspring

different group composition

male-male bonds very important while female-female bonds typically weak

Vocalization

higher pitched

peeps and peep yelps

males drum on tree buttresses

lower pitched

hoot, scream, grunt

males drum on tree buttresses

Dominance Hierarchy

females form strong bonds with weak hierarchy and in coalitions can dominate males

male(s) is never alpha / highest ranking individual

linear set of relationships among all males which includes a clear alpha-male (or coalition of males)

Group Hunting  extremely rare if ever frequent in times of abundant fruit, when multiple chimpanzee males and red Colobus monkeys plentiful
 Territoriality

no evidence of lethal aggression in defending home ranges

mating across community lines occasionally observed

specific territories

aggressive patrolling of boundaries can result in lethal aggression (killing of neighbors)

avoidance of neighbors

 Tool Use  only frequently seen in captivity

cultural variation exists that is transmitted through social learning

compared to other animals relatively complex nut cracking, ant fishing, leaf clipping & medicinal plant use observed

 Sexual Behavior frequent non-reproductive sexual behavior observed at all ages and between all partner types

believed to reduce tension and encourage tolerance

sexual excitement often observed during feeding

frequent homosexual interactions especially in females

used as a greeting and conflict resolution

very little sexual behavior observed in adults outside of reproductive contexts

 

high ranking males monopolize and guard females in estrus

 Threats hunting, snares, habitat destruction, infectious diseases hunting, snares, habitat destruction, infectious diseases

Bonobos are famous for tolerant female relationships and non-reproductive sexual behavior between partners of all ages and sexes.

    • Bonobo Sex
    • Photo Credit: Jingzhi Tan

Chimpanzees, like humans, have a darker side. They coerce females and use lethal aggression against neighboring groups.

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    • Photo Credit: V. Woods
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    • Photo Credit: V. Woods
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    • Photo Credit: V. Woods
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