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Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are our closest living relatives. Chimpanzees are very familiar to us humans, perhaps because so much of their behavior reminds us of ourselves. Closely linked by more than 98 percent of our genetic blueprint, chimps are one of the four species of great apes that are the closest living relatives of humans. Great apes are different from monkeys for a variety of reasons. Chimps are larger than most other monkeys. Chimpanzees are quadrupedal, which means that they walk on all four limbs, although they can also walk upright (bipedal) for short distances. Unlike other primates such as monkeys and baboons, chimps don’t have a tail and have much larger, more developed brains. There is no hair on a chimpanzee’s face, hands, or feet, but the rest of its body is covered with either long black or brown hair. But they do have large ears that stick out a bit, which helps them hear other chimps in a dense forest. Like humans, chimps have opposable thumbs to help them grasp branches or grab a bite to eat, as well as fingernails and toenails.

Chimpanzees live in social communities of other chimps made up of family groups. An entire chimp community can sometimes have as many as 100 members, made up of many different family groups. Within these family groups there are usually about 6 to 10 individuals. One experienced adult male chimp can be the leader of the community, although in other communities leadership is shared among several males. Usually a male chimp stays in the community into which he was born, but females transfer to other communities when they become adults. Chimpanzees can habituate themselves to African rain forests, woodlands, and grasslands.By swinging from branch to branch they can also move quite efficiently in the trees, where they do most of their eating. Chimpanzees usually sleep in the trees as well, employing nests of leaves. Chimps prefer dense tropical rainforests but can also be found in secondary-growth forests, woodlands, bamboo forests, swamps, and even open savannah.

Chimpanzees communicate using barks, grunts, and screams. When they find a large food supply, the apes jump through the trees, hoot loudly, and beat on tree trunks. This lets all other chimpanzees within hearing distance know there is food available. Chimpanzees also communicate with body postures, facial expressions, and hand gestures. Chimpanzees greet each other by embracing or by touching various parts of the other's body. Their facial expressions show many emotions, including excitement, fear, and rage. A chimpanzee, especially a male, will sometimes scream and wildly run around to intimidate another chimpanzee - this noisy show is known as a "display."

Chimpanzees have a tremendously varied diet that includes hundreds of known foods. Chimps are generally fruit and plant eaters, but observers have recorded about 80 different items wild chimps eat including seeds, fruit, leaves, bark, honey, flowers, insects, eggs, and meat, including carrion. This makes up most of their diet. However, chimpanzees also hunt other animals, like monkeys or small antelope, for meat. Feeding is usually an individual activity, but sometimes chimps look for food together.

Female chimps in the wild usually give birth for the first time when they are between 12 and 15 years old, while males are not considered adults until they are 16 years old. Females can give birth at any time of year, typically to a single infant that clings to its mother's fur and later rides on her back until the age of two. They are extremely helpless at birth, and soon after birth, the baby learns to cling to its mother’s underside. Later it transfers to her back and uses this piggyback style of riding for the next seven months or so. A young chimp gets milk from its mother until it is about three years old. It can begin walking on its own at about age four but continues to stay with Mom for a few more years, learning all the skills needed to survive. A mother chimp develops a close bond with her young that may last a lifetime.

Chimpanzee Fun Facts

  • Chimpanzees stand approximately 4 feet high.
  • Chimpanzee males weigh between 90 and 120 pounds.
  • Females weigh between 60 and 110 pounds.
  • Chimpanzees rarely live past the age of 50 in the wild, but have been known to reach the age of 60 in captivity.
  • An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild.
  • Large population decreases are also blamed on hunting and commercial exportation.
  • Chimpanzees are one of the few animal species that employ tools.
  • Adult chimpanzees spend about an hour each day in a friendly social activity called grooming.
  • Chimpanzees can even be taught to use some basic human sign language.
  • Chimpanzees can be found in 21 African countries.
  • Chimps are very intelligent and can be trained by humans to perform a variety of tasks.

Did You Know?

  • Chimpanzees use large sticks and branches as clubs or throw them at enemies like leopards and humans.
  • Chimpanzees are called our closest living relative because we share all but 1.4% of our DNA with chimps.

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