Scientific name: Pan paniscus

Bonobos are one of two species that belong to the genus Pan, the other species is the common chimpanzee.Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.
Bonobos are one of two species that belong to the genus Pan, the other species is the common chimpanzee. Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) is a one of two living species of chimpanzees. The other species of chimpanzees is the common chimpanzee. Bonobos and common chimpanzees together form a group that represents the closest living relatives to humans.

Bonobos are sometimes called pygmy chimpanzees despite being almost the same size as common chimpanzees. Their more slender build gives them the appearance of being smaller than their cousins the common chimpanzees.

Bonobos are large primates that have black fur, black skin on the face and hands, pink underbelly and lips, and a distinct brow ridge above their eyes. The brow ridge in bonobos is less prominent than that of common chimpanzees. Males are larger than females. Bonobos are less stocky in build than common chimpanzees. Their upper body is narrower and they have a lean neck. Their legs are proportionally longer than those of the common chimpanzee.

Bonobos are mainly terrestrial but also spend a good deal of time in trees as well so they can also be described as arboreal. When moving on the ground, they generally walk on their feet and knuckles of their hands (this method is know as quadrupedal knuckle walking). On occasion, bonobos have been observed walking on their feet (bipedal walking) but in the wild, this locomotion behavior is not very common. Though bonobos use bipedal locomotion only rarely, they have a greater disposition to walking on two feet than other apes.

Their thigh bones are longer, their feet are longer and the distribution of their body weight all make them more capable of bipedal locomotion than other non-human apes.

Bonobos spend much of their time feeding in trees, traveling, resting and socializing. During an average day, bonobos travel just under one and a quarter miles.

Bonobos communicate using vocalizations but little is known about the meaning of their various calls. Some of the facial expressions and gestures bonobos exhibit convey similar meaning as those of humans.

Female bonobos dominate the social structure within bonobo groups. Social groups of as many as 100 individuals are known, but they often break into smaller groups while foraging for food. Bonobos are thought to exhibit a variety of complex behaviors including altruism, patience, empathy and compassion. Experts disagree on how peaceful or aggressive bonobos truly are.

Bonobos are classified by the IUCN as endangered species. Their population is estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 individuals. The main threats they face include habitat destruction and hunting for the bushmeat trade.

Bonobos are omnivorous frugivores. The main portion of their diet consists of fruit. They also feed on a variety of other plant materials including leaves, seeds, sprouts, flowers, bark, roots, and stems. Bonobos also eat other small animals on occasion, such as earthworms, small mammals and birds eggs.

Bonobos and chimpanzees are thought to have diverged from a common ancestor between 1.5 and 2 million years go when the Congo River formed and separated their ancestral population.

Scientists believe that the ancient chimpanzees that lived on the south side of the Congo evolved into Bonobos while the ancient chimpanzees that lived on the north side of the Congo River evolved into common chimpanzees.

Bonobos weigh between 65 and 130 pounds and are 28 to 33 inches long.

Bonobos live in swamps and rainforest areas south of the Congo River and north of the Kasai River. Their range is within the country of the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. The current range of Bonobos is about 77,000 square miles. Their range includes two river systems and those rivers define the extent of the bonobo distribution.


Animals > Chordates > Mammals > Primates > Apes > Chimpanzees > Bonobos (Pan paniscus)

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Klappenbach, Laura. "Bonobos." ThoughtCo, Dec. 22, 2015, Klappenbach, Laura. (2015, December 22). Bonobos. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "Bonobos." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).