Bonobos are polygynandrous. Females may be approached by and copulate with, any male in the group except their sons. However, the mating system may be confused by the use of sexual activity in these animals as part of social bond formation.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Basic life history traits of bonobos are under-researched. Some of the seminal studies of this species have noted that “bonobos have not yet been studied long enough to provide data on age at sexual maturity or birth interval” (Nishida and Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, 1987), the most frequently researched “Wamba and Lomako study populations lack long-term demographic data” (Thompson-Handler et al., 1984), and “information on the demography of wild bonobos is very limited compared to that for chimpanzees” (Furuichi et al., 1998).
Female bonobos undergo estrus, marked by distinctive swelling of the perineal tissue lasting 10 to 20 days. Matings are concentrated during the time of maximal swelling. Breeding occurs throughout the year. Postpartum amenorrhea lasts less than one year in bonobos. A female may resume external signs of estrus (i.e. swelling) within a year of giving birth. At this point, copulation may resume, although these copulations do not lead to conception, indicating that the female is probably not fertile. During this period, she continues to lactate until her offspring is weaned at around 4 years. The average interbirth interval is 4.6 years (4.8 if one only includes live births). Therefore, lactation may suppress ovulation, but not the outward signs of estrus. As no study has lasted longer than a bonobo lifespan, total number of offspring per female is unknown. However, at Wamba, many adult females had four offspring during the 20 year study length.
Adult female bonobos have an estrus period that is marked externally by physical changes in their genitalia. During this time, males of the group approache the female, displaying their erect penises. Females are generally receptive, and will move toward a male to allow copulation. There is no clear pattern of mate choice: females are courted by many males of the group during estrus, with the exception of their sons. Because of this, paternity is generally unknown to both partners.
Breeding interval: Breeding occurs nearly all the time in this species, however, a female may produce one offspring approximately every 5 years.
Breeding season: Bonobos have no marked breeding season.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average gestation period: 240 days.
Average weaning age: 48 months.
Range time to independence: 7 to 9 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 13 to 15 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 13 to 15 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 1331 g.
Average gestation period: 232 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Information is limited on parental investment. However, bonobos are highly social mammals and live around 15 years before achieving full adult status. During this time, the mother provides most of the parenting, although the males may contribute indirectly (i.e. in alerting the group of danger, sharing food, and possibly helping to protect young).
Bonobo babies are born relatively helpless. They are dependent on mothers’ milk and cling to their mother for several months. Parental care is provided by the mother, as paternity is generally unclear. Weaning is a gradual process, and is usually commenced by the time the offspring is 4 years of age. Throughout the weaning process, mothers generally have their offspring feed by their side, allowing them to observe the feeding process and food choice, rather than providing them with food directly. Weaning may be enforced by a mother’s refusal to allow a juvenile into her nest, thereby encouraging it to build a nest of its own.
As adults, male bonobos typically remain in their natal social group, so they have contact with their mothers throughout her remaining years. Female offspring leave their natal group during late adolescence, so they do not maintain contact with their mothers in adulthood.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning; inherits maternal/paternal territory; maternal position in the dominance hierarchy affects status of young
- Kano, T. 1992. The Last Ape: Pygmy Chimpanzee Behavior and Ecology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Furuichi, T. 1987. Sexual swelling, receptivity, and grouping of wild pygmy chimpanzee females at Wamba, Zaire. Primates, 23/3: 309-318.
- Dahl, J. 1986. Cyclic perineal swelling during the intermenstrual intervals of captive female pygmy chimpanzees (Pan paniscus). Journal of Human Evolution, 15: 369-385.
- Fruth, B., G. Hohmann. 1993. Ecological and behavioral aspects of nest building in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus). Ethology, 94: 113-126.
- Furuichi, T., G. Idani, H. Ihobe, S. Kuroda, K. Kitamura, A. Mori, T. Enomoto, N. Okayasu, C. Hashimoto, T. Kano. 1998. Population dynamics of wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) at Wamba. International Journal of Primatology, 19/6: 1029-1043.
- Horn, A. 1980. Some observations on the ecology of the bonobo chimpanzee (Pan paniscus, Schwarz 1929) Near Lake Tumba, Zaire. Folia primatologica, 34: 145-169.
- Savage-Rumbaugh, E., B. Wilkerson. 1978. Socio-sexual behavior in Pan paniscus and Pan troglodytes: A comparative study. Journal of Human Evolution, 7: 327-344.
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