Chimpanzees are intelligent and creative primates with many unique characteristics. Due to their presence in pop culture and scientific discovery, they have captured the hearts of many around the world. You might have seen a chimpanzee at a zoo or wildlife sanctuary, but do you know some of the most interesting facts about these great apes? Continue reading to find out what makes chimps so special.
10 Characteristics of Chimpanzees
Characteristics in Animals
The following characteristics of chimpanzees are present in their behavior and physical structure. Physical characteristics include all aspects of the animal’s physical body, including its shape, size, sensory organs, and visual appearance.
Behavioral characteristics are the types of actions the animal takes when it interacts with its surroundings. They include hunting for prey, bonding with other members of its species, or investigating a territorial threat.
1. Chimpanzees are apes
Chimpanzees are members of the great ape family. They share this family with gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and humans. They are different from monkeys because they do not have a tail and are more intelligent.
The hallmark characteristics of the ape family are an omnivorous diet, larger brains, no tail, and different teeth. Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs and toes which allow them to quickly climb trees and easily grasp plants and fruits. Their digestive system is adapted to an omnivorous diet, unlike other apes which eat only plant matter.
2. Chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA with humans
Humans and chimpanzees are closely related. They both fall into the family Hominidae, which they share with gorillas and bonobos.
From a visual assessment, it is clear that humans and chimpanzees share many characteristics. Both have opposable thumbs, similar molars, and forward facing eyes. However, the remaining 2% of DNA codes for vast differences in intelligence, behavior, upright walking, and bone structure.
3. Ability to communicate their needs
Chimpanzees are some of the most intelligent non-human animals on earth. Scientists have tried to study the extent of their intelligence since the late 19th century.
So far, some chimpanzees have been trained to associate pictures with objects and communicate their needs to their handlers. However, they have not made the jump from mimicry and training to coming up with their own ideas.
4. They have opposable thumbs
Chimpanzees use their opposable thumbs (and toes) to grasp, feel, and construct tools. They have a strong grip that they use to swing from tree to tree.
Scientists believe that apes’ brain development increased when they developed opposable thumbs. Operation of thumbs takes up a large portion of brain energy and may have contributed to the evolution of the frontal lobe, which is larger in humans than most other species.
5. They eat meat and plants, but especially fruit
Chimpanzees are omnivorous apes. Even though they prefer to eat fruit, enough of their diet is animal-based to warrant being called an omnivore. Males eat more animal foods than females do.
Plant material chimps eat includes leaves, bark, flowers, and seeds. When they need more fat or protein, they prey on insects, small birds, and eggs. Honey is a treat that they will break open a beehive for.
6. Chimps limb in trees and walk on the ground
Unlike monkeys, which prefer to live almost exclusively in trees, chimps live in trees and on the ground. How much time they spend on the ground or up in the trees depends on what community the chimp lives in, where it lives, and if it is male or female.
Most of their diet consists of plants and animals that they have to climb into trees to access, so trees form a cardinal part of their habitat. They descend to the ground if they need to get rocks, water, or access trees that can’t be climbed to from the canopy.
No matter how much time chimpanzees spend on the ground, they all sleep overnight in nests built within trees.
7. They create and use tools from things in their environment
Chimpanzees make tools out of sticks, leaves, rocks, and grass. Even though these tools are basic, they indicate that the primates have complex thought processes and understand basic cause-and-effect.
Some examples of chimpanzee-made tools include:
- long sticks to grab honey from beehives without getting stung
- rocks used to crack open nuts
- using leaves as spoons to scoop water
8. They communicate with each other through expressions, gestures, and vocalizations
Chimpanzees are social creatures. Like people, they use a variety of methods to communicate their needs, wants, and intentions. Chimpanzees grumble and grunt at each other as well as grimace and smile. Some even kiss to resolve fights.
One important way chimpanzees communicate is grooming each other. They engage in reciprocal grooming to deepen bonds of friendship or relationship between mothers and children, siblings, or mated pairs.
Pairs of males groom each other more often more than any other group. Scientists believe it is a way of maintaining dominance and their position in the social hierarchy.
9. Chimpanzees live in complex communities led by a single male
Chimpanzees live together in groups that average about 25 apes. It is led by a single dominant male who has breeding priority with the females in the group. Secondary males compete for the dominant male’s position by fighting regularly and defending their territory.
Females are free to float between the group they were born in and other groups, but males stay in the same group they were born in for their entire lives.
10. Mother chimpanzees take care of their babies for several years
Chimpanzees are slow-maturing primates. A chimpanzee isn’t sexually mature until it reaches 7 years old, and females won’t have young until they turn about 13 years old.
Baby chimpanzees cling to their mothers for about two years and drink milk until they are five. Even after weaning, a chimpanzee has a close relationship with its mother; they stick around for several years until they reach sexual maturity.
Mother chimpanzees raise their baby mostly on their own. Fathers rarely contribute to the young, but other relatives like sisters and non-related females contribute to the rearing process.