Primate of the Week: Bonobos

Pan paniscus



  • Suborder: Haplorrhini
  • Infraorder: Simiiformes
  • Superfamily: Hominoidea
  • Family: Hominidae


Bonobos are apes that are close relatives to chimps, they are both part of the Pan genus. Bonobos are more gracile and slender compared to Chimpanzees. Males are larger than females, males weigh on average 86 pounds (36 kg) and females weigh 68.3 pounds (31 kg) (Rowe, 1996). Bonobos have black hair and face. The hair on the top of their head is often parted. Bonobos are also born with a white rump tuft (Rowe, 1996; de Waal, 1997).



Bonobos are found with the Democratic Republic of Congo (central Africa). They mainly are located within the swampy rainforest located south of the Zaire river (Kortlandt, 1995). The diet of bonobos mainly consists of plant products such as fruits, seeds, sprouts, flowers, bark, stems, pith, roots and mushrooms. They will also consume small mammals, larvae, earthworms, honey, eggs and soils (Kano, 1992; Bermejo et al. 1994). However, they only feed on mammals opportunistically and not by hunting like Chimps (White, 1996).


Bonobos, like chimps, live in fission fusion social group (Badrian et al., 1984; White, 1996). They are part of large groups of multi male and females. They are patrilineal and females emigrate from their natal groups to a new group when they are sexual mature (Furuichi, 1989). Females share incredibly strong bonds within Bonobo society, and often have more cohesive bonds with each other than other males (White, 1988; 1996). Female obtain rank as they get older and have more offspring (White, 1996). Interestingly unlike chimpanzee males, although the males are related to each other that have little affiliative behaviors wile females who are unrelated tend to have strong affiliative behaviors (White, 1996).


Bonobos are mainly defined by their sexual behavior. Sex serves not only as a means of reproduction but also as appeasement, affection, social status, erotic games, reconciliation, excitement, and stress reduction (de Waal, 1997). Sex generally occurs with all partner combinations. Females often use genito-genital rubbing in order to facilitate and strengthens the bond between female bonobos (de Waal, 1997). Copulation increases the likeliness of food sharing as well. Females will beg for food from dominant males and if they copulate prior to this the male is more likely to share the food (Blount, 1990).


Females exhibit sexual swelling. Swelling occurs in four stages including pre swelling, swelling, post swelling, and menses (Reichert et al., 2002). The interbirth interval is four to six years (Kano, 1992; Rowe, 1996; de Waal, 1997). Females exhibit multiple matings with several males, this leads to paternal uncertainty thus males are less likely to invest paternally since they are often unsure of their paternity (de Waal, 1997).


Bonobos like chimpanzees also exhibit strong mother and offspring bonds. However, bonobos have been reported as being more attentive to their offspring since offspring tend to develop slower than chimpanzees (Kuroda, 1989).


Work Cited

Badrian A & Badrian N. 1984. Social organization of Pan paniscus in the Lomako forest, Zaire. In: Susman RL, editor. The pygmy chimpanzee: evolutionary biology and behavior. New York: Plenum Pr; p. 325-46.

Bermejo J, Illera G, Sabater Pi JS. 1994. Animals and mushrooms consumed by bonobos (Pan paniscus). Int J Prim 15(6): 879-98.

Blount BG. 1990. Issues in bonobo (Pan paniscus) sexual behavior. Am Anthro 92(3): 702-14.


Kano T. 1992. The last ape: pygmy chimpanzee behavior and ecology. Stanford (CA): Stanford Univ Pr. 248 p.

Kano T. 1996. Male rank order and copulation rate in a unit-group of bonobos at Wamba, Zaire. In: McGrew WC, Marchant LF, Nishida T, editors. Great ape societies. Cambridge (England): Cambridge Univ Pr; p 135-45.

Kortlandt A. 1995. A survey of the geographical range, habitats and conservation of the pygmy chimpanzee (Pan paniscus): an ecological perspective. Prim Cons 16: 21-36.

Kuroda S. 1989. Developmental retardation and behavioral characteristics of pygmy chimpanzees. In: Heltne PG, Marquardt LA, editors. Understanding chimpanzees. Cambridge (MS): Harvard Univ Pr; p 184-93.

Reichert KE, Heistermann J, Hodges K, Boesch C, Hohmann G. 2002. What females tell males about their reproductive status: are morphological and behavioral cues reliable signals of ovulation in bonobos (Pan paniscus)?. Ethology 108: 583-600.

Reinartz G & Bila Isia I. 2001. Bonobo survival and a wartime conservation mandate. In: The apes: challenges for the 21st century. Conference proceedings; 2000 May 10-13; Brookfield, IL. Chicago: Chicago Zoo Soc; p 52-6.

Rowe N. 1996. The pictorial guide to the living primates. East Hampton (NY): Pogonias Pr. 263 p.

Rowe R, Sharma N, Browder J. 1992. Deforestation: problems, causes and concerns. In: Sharma NP, editor. Managing the world’s forests: looking for balance between conservation and development. Dubuqe (IA): Kendall/Hunt. P 33-45.

de Waal, FB. 1988. The communicative repertoire of captive bonobos (Pan paniscus) compared to that of chimpanzees. Behaviour 106: 183-251.

de Waal FB. 1997. Bonobo: the forgotten ape. Berkelely (CA): Univ California Pr. 210 p.

de Waal FB. 2001. The ape and the sushi master: cultural reflections by a primtologist. New York: Basic Books. 433 p.


One thought on “Primate of the Week: Bonobos

  1. Pingback: Primate News of the Week | Primatoloigistinthemaking

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