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Bonobos and Common Chimps Comparison


To a large extent, common chimps as well as bonobos tend to display characteristics that are similar to those witnessed in human beings. Despite the fact that the two primates are very much alike, it is assumed that there more similarities between bonobos and human beings. Arguably, bonobos and common chimps exhibit behavioral characteristics that are generally quite similar.

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In spite of the close relationship between common chimps and bonobos, they differ in a number of ways. This paper looks at the similarities and differences that exist between bonobos and common chimps.

Similarities and Differences between Bonobos and Common Chimps

For some people, the differences between bonobos and common chimps are mainly due to their different sizes. In comparison to common chimps, it is presumed that bonobos are generally smaller in size. This notwithstanding, there are many other differences that exist.

At first, the differences between bonobos and common chimps were considered to be very negligible. With distinct body parts such as longer lower limbs and shorter upper limbs, bonobos were initially thought to be small chimpanzees (Boesch, Hohmann and Marchant 4). It is for this reason that bonobos are sometimes referred to as pygmy chimps. As pointed out earlier, there are some obvious differences between bonobos and common chimps.

Bonobos, for example, display different sexual and social behaviors. While bonobos have been described as being excessively sexual, common chimps less active sexually and generally tend to have loose interrelations. It is also alleged that homosexual interactions are quite common among bonobos. Research findings, however, point to the fact that the difference in terms of sexual behavior is not quite magnified between any two species.

Other studies also indicate that female chimps and bonobos may in some cases display similar sexual characteristics (Boesch, Hohmann and Marchant 5). Unlike bonobos, common chimps also tend to have very tight social groupings that are mainly dominated by male chimps. However, both female chimps and bonobos display a high level of cohesiveness in social groupings.

Bonobos and common chimps are also known to have favorite grooming partners. According to Haviland, Walrath, Prins and McBride (87), grooming takes place between two animals that are very closely related to each other. Usually, it involves one of the animals getting rid of parasites from the other. Other than playing a critical role of enhancing cleanness among animals that are close to each other, grooming is also very vital for promoting friendliness, closeness, and reconciliation.

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However, common chimp communities tend to differ in the way they go about grooming. In some chimp communities in East Africa, for example, grooming is usually done while the two chimps involved are positioned face to face. The chimps involved use one hand for grooming while the other hand clasps the partner’s free hand. In other groups there is no hold onto the partner’s hand. Common chimp communities in East Africa also incorporate leaves in their grooming while this is not the norm in the Western part of Africa.

In common chimps, frequent sexual activities, initiated by either male or female chimps takes place during estrus, the period when the female is considered to be receptive to impregnation. In common chimps, the skin that surrounds female genitals normally swells during estrus. On the contrary, bonobo females generally appear as though they are fertile at all times as a result of their strong desire for sex.

When in estrus, a chimp female reportedly engages in numerous sexual activities which may sometimes be accompanied by several copulations in any given day with different partners. To a large extent, female chimps often mate with males who belong to their own group. Although it is common for dominant males to monopolize females during the estrus period, this can only succeed with full cooperation from female chimps.

In some cases, a female chimp and a male chimp may form a bond meant to only last for the female chimp’s fertile period. Unlike common chimps, bonobos can indulge in sexual activities at any time. This is to say that their involvement in sex is not linked to the female bonobo’s fertility. Ostensibly, the constant genital swelling of bonobos conceals the female bonobo’s ovulation. This is very similar to what happens in human beings. Ovulation is usually concealed in humans by the absence of constant genital swelling.

Arguably, the ability to hide ovulation in bonobos is very important in separating the use of sex for socialization and pleasure from the use of it for reproduction reasons. Apparently, sexuality among bonobos extends beyond the mating process between males and females for the sake of reproduction.

In some instances, one may come across male bonobos mounting each other as a unique way of demonstrating care and concern. Evidently, however, rubbing is very common among female bonobos. As pointed out by Haviland, Walrath, Prins and McBride (88), sexual activities among bonobos are frequent but also very brief when compared to common chimps.

Arguably, it is impossible for an infant chimp to survive in the event that the mother dies before it is four years old. In the same way, a young bonobo who has lost a mother loses reputation in a social group (Haviland et al. 98). According to research findings, a female chimp only reaches maturity after attaining the age of 10. After giving birth to her first offspring, it is presumed that a female chimp will stay for at least five years before bearing another.

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When it comes to communication, bonobos as well as common chimps communicate emotional states rather than information. Apparently, most of the communication done by bonobos and common chimps takes place through the use of specific gestures which may include acts of kissing and embracing.

Among common chimps, facial expressions are used to relay emotions such as excitement, fear, or distress. In order to express pleasure, common chimps may also make use of other techniques which may include spanking their lips. Visual communication among bonobos usually takes place through trail markers.

According to Kappeler, Peter and Watts (424), the way bonobos behave in the evening is worth considering. Whenever sleeping time approaches, bonobos traveling separately but in the same neighborhood call each other as they move around. Apparently, bonobos normally engage in explorations while in large parties during the day. In the evening, they come together to form even larger parties.

At the beginning of every new day, the large parties created in the evening are split into a number of smaller parties before going to forage. Evening calls are, however, not present among common chimps. Interestingly, the size of parties among chimps reduces as evening approaches. Clearly, there is a very strong motivation among bonobos to build high level cohesions.

Unlike the tendency of female chimps to wander alone or in small parties, it is common for female bonobos to attend parties more frequently than their male counterparts. Arguably, this greatly contributes to the cohesion in the group. According to Kappeler, Peter and Watts (425), there are a number of factors that can lead to the differences between bonobos and common chimps. First in the list is the difference in the density of food patches. Apparently, the density of food patches is higher among bonobos.

Secondly, it is alleged that bonobos generally observe the movement of other bonobos as if to determine which direction they should be moving to. Thirdly, estrus periods among female bonobos are usually prolonged.

Ordinarily, female chimps only resume cyclic estrus after a period of between four to five years in the even that their infants get to survive. In addition, female chimps stop showing signs of estrus as soon as two months after conception takes place. For this reason, it is believed that female chimps are in the estrus for about 5 per cent of their adult life.

On the contrary, female bonobos resume swelling cycles one year after parturition. Consequently, female bonobos demonstrate estrus for close to 27 percent of their adult lives. Among bonobos, there are normally many estrous females that exist within a group to such as extent that high esteemed males can not monopolize all of them. As pointed out earlier, it is generally not easy for an infant chimp to survive when the mother succumbs to death before it reaches four years.

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A similar situation may also be witnessed when a young bonobo loses the mother. As pointed out earlier, a young bonobo who loses a mother tends to have a weakened social status in a social group. Research findings indicate that a female chimp can only reach maturity after reaching the age of ten. After giving birth to her first offspring, it is alleged that a female chimp will stay for at least five years before bearing another.


Despite the fact that there are variations in opinion by different scholars regarding similarities and differences that exist between bonobos and common chimps, it is obvious that several similarities and differences exist. The similarities discussed in this paper are a clear indication that the two primates are very close relatives.

Both bonobos and common chimps, for example, exhibit various characteristics that are similar to those that are seen among human beings. This notwithstanding, some authors have argued that the similarities that exist between common chimps and human beings are more pronounced that those witnessed between bonobos and human beings.

The discussion in this paper also indicates that the differences between bonobos and common chimps can be placed in different categories for ease of understanding. There are some differences that are as a result of food densities. Ostensibly foods densities among bonobos are higher than among common chimps.

Differences may also be witnessed with regard to the way bonobos and common chimps move around. Unlike common chimps, bonobos observe the movement of other bonobos while traveling from one place to another. Another difference is with regard to estrus periods. On average, bonobos have longer estrus periods than common chimps.

Works Cited

Boesch, Christophe, Gottfried Hohmann and Linda Marchant. Behavioral Diversity in Chimpanzees and Bonobos. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Haviland, William, Dana Walrath, Harald Prins and Bunny McBride. Evolution and Prehistory: The Human Challenge. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Kappeler, Peter and David Watts. Long-Term Field Studies of Primates. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. Print.

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