From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A bonobo in a contemplative pose.
Live, reproduce, die
Icon bioDNA.svg
Life as we know it
Divide and multiply
Great Apes
Not to be confused with chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), their closest extant sister taxon.

The bonobo (Pan paniscus), historically known as pygmy chimpanzee, lives in central Africa and together with the common chimpanzee is our closest living relative — and the most despised of all monkeys[note 1] by creationists. Because the two species are not proficient swimmers, the formation of the Congo River 1.5–2 million years ago possibly led to the speciation of the bonobo. Bonobos live south of the river, and thereby were separated from the ancestors of the common chimpanzee, which live north of the river.

Bonobos have a matriarchal society, with male aggression rare. Sex is used as a way to mediate conflicts and they do not pair-bond. Females are slightly more sexually active than the males, and will engage in genital-to-genital rubbing with other females roughly once every two hours.[1] In addition the bonobo is notorious for its exuberant sexual activity, seen equally in both genders:

  • Using sex as a greeting, a method of avoiding conflict, and a system of post-conflict resolution.[2]
  • Using sex for recreation.
  • Enthusiastically indulging in face-to-face genital sex. This is most frequently female-female. But the guys do "get it on", and when they do, it is called penis fencing.
  • Practice tongue kissing and oral sex.[3]

All this goes on both within and outside the family and involves adults, children and infants.

Although bonobos mediate conflicts well and exhibit such traits as empathy and affection, they are still wild animals, and likewise, compete heavily over status. Their nickname, "hippie apes", is probably unearned, as violent aggression plays a large part in their social lives. Since females dominate, they are not above coercion, and unlucky males often bear the brunt of female aggression, which can take the form of digits being bitten off and mutilated genitals.[4] Males also compete with each other, and females have a preference for higher ranking males over low-ranking ones.[5] Lastly, bonobos may not be entirely matriarchal, as sons of high status females sometimes coerce low-ranking females into mating with them. [6]

Humanity may, or may not, have something to learn from them, like why they are strangely immune to the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus.[7]


Phylogenetic tree showing only extant (living) taxa:[8]

 Family Hominidae 

 Genus Pan 

 Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes

 Bonobos (Pan paniscus

 Genus Homo 

 Humans (Homo sapiens

 Genus Gorilla 


 Genus Pongo 


See also[edit]


  1. They're apes, not monkeys, but creationists probably don't care to differentiate (e.g., the so-called Monkey trial)


  1. Balcombe, Jonathan Peter (2011). The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure. University of California Press. p. 88. 
  2. Natalie Angier, In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails. Archived from The New York Times, 13 September 2016.
  3. Manson, Joseph H.; Perry, Susan; Parish, Amy R. (1997). "Nonconceptive Sexual Behavior in Bonobos and Capuchins". International Journal of Primatology 18 (5): 767–86. 
  7. Sharp, Paul M.; Shaw, George M.; Hahn, Beatrice H. (April 2005). "Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Infection of Chimpanzees". Journal of Virology 79: 3891–3902. 
  8. Hominidae. Archived from, 5 March 2016.