October 5, 2012

Bono-boning: What Can Bonobos Tell Us about our own Behavior?


Primates are some of the most well-observed species on planet earth.

We are obsessed with finding similarities between their behavior and that of  homo-sapiens. After all, bonobos and chimpanzees are our closet living relatives.

At one point in time—pre-agriculture circa, oh, just 10,000 years ago, humans were extremely sexual dimorphic. Sexual dimorphism being contrast in secondary sex characteristics such as: beards, peacock feathers (impressive), body size, teeth size. Before humans starting settling down, planting seeds, and going around saying they own land—we didn’t care so much about monogamy. One theory is that the male became more invested in his offspring when he had the option to bequeath land, and wealth. Yay.

So. A relevant side note: angler fish are unusual in that the female is substantially larger than the male. So much so, that scientists first speculated the male fish to be a parasite of her side. It turns out his function is to suck her sustenance and in return, she can pull sperm. All sorts of relationships in the world.

I found these particular behaviors in bonobos entertaining and intriguing:

“When bonobos come upon a new food source or feeding ground, the increased excitement will usually lead to communal sexual activity, presumably decreasing tension and encouraging peaceful feeding.”

Also to be noted: males penis fencing, females orgasm together upon first meeting to establish kinship, even females too young to reproduce participate in sexual activities. Male adults become friends with females and infants to protect themselves. You don’t want to be a male bonobo and scare an infant into crying—all the females show up.

I find the way humans talk about other primates to be endearing in that it is so physical, blunt and informative in a way that we rarely speak about our own “getting the whole day on with.”

We could learn a lot from bonobos:



Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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