Critter of the Week: Bonobo



Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Suborder: Haplorhini

Infraorder: Simiiformes

Family: Hominidae

Genus: Pan

Species: P. paniscus


Bonobo distribution.svg


Even though the bonobo is labeled as the “dwarf chimpanzee”, it is actually the same size as common chimps. Bonobo are found in Central Africa in the Congo Basin. They can be distinguished by their long legs, pink lips, dark face, small tuft of tail hair, and its parted hair on its head.





Bonobos not only known for their intelligence but also their large emotional capacity. A brain study revealed that the brain regions associated with empathy, anxiety, and distress in others were larger in bonobos than in the common chimpanzee. Bonobos also have a strong brain connection between aggression and impulse control, which allows them to be more socially acceptable in their groups.





Besides their large emotional capacity, bonobos can understand language, communicate with people, use tools, and play instruments. The tools bonobos have been recorded using are rocks used to crack open bones or other things for food, sticks and rocks used to dig, and even using a long stick for leverage to move large rocks out of the way. One bonobo named Kanzi even learned how to use a keyboard of symbols to communicate with researchers!



The head of every bonobo group is a dominant female. This is rare as the female bonobos are smaller than the males. In times of tension, instead of an increase in testosterone, like in most species, bonobos create cortisol, which is related to stress. In this stressed response, bonobos will seek reassurance from the group and may even hug instead of fighting.





There is no specific mating season for bonobos. Once a female is pregnant, she will carry her baby for about 8 months. Depending on the gender of the baby, the mother may take care of it for 3-6 years. Male babies will stay with the mother longer and join the troop it was born in; females will leave after a few years to join another troop.