Stories tagged chimpanzees


Turn around: I think I might know you from somewhere else.
Turn around: I think I might know you from somewhere else.Courtesy Aaron Logan
So here’s a project that researchers must have had a lot of laughs doing. They’ve found that chimps are as likely to remember a fellow acquaintance of their species by their butt as by their face.

Captive chimps were able to match up at a high rate of success photos of rear ends and faces of chimps they’d previously met. Here’s how it worked:

Each participating chimp was flashed a picture of another's rear end, with visible genitals, then shown the face of the derriere's owner and another face of the same gender.

Both males and females were successful in this anatomical match game, pairing faces and posteriors with much greater frequency than chance alone—but only if the photos showed chimps they already knew.

You are now free to go ahead and make up your own J-Lo joke.


Trained to love: but born a warrior.
Trained to love: but born a warrior.Courtesy wordman1
A chimpanzee has escaped from a So-Cal exotic animals refuge/training facility.

Normally I wouldn't give this a whole lot of thought, but after recognizing the unique name and striking features of the chimp's former owner, I realized that this is sort of a famous chimp that's now prowling the San Bernardino National Forest.

Did you ever read this post about the former NASCAR driver who had his foot, nose, and testicles ripped off by chimpanzees? It happened when he was visiting his former pet chimp, Moe. Well, that's the very same exotic animals facility, and it's Moe himself that has escaped!

Keep in mind that it wasn't Moe who savaged the guy (although does have a little biting in his past), and that Moe has been toilet trained and can eat with a knife and fork. So there's something of a little scholar, wandering around out there in the forest. Best of luck to you, Moe.

Jane Goodall, the internationally-known chimp researcher, will be making a pair of public appreances at the University of Minnesota on Saturday. Here's a link to the details. Both events are free and open to the public.


The Chimpanzee: A nightmare creature.
The Chimpanzee: A nightmare creature.Courtesy Wikimedia commons
This isn't really news, but I think it's important that people know about it.

So, I was looking at Thor's recent post on chimpanzee memory, and its associated poll "Do you think you could beat a chimp in a test of memory?", and I started thinking (which is unusual for me, so I decided to run with it).

I decided that the answer to whether or not I could out-remember a chimp is a solid "no." I could maybe out-remember a goldfish, if only because you probably couldn't keep feeding me until I died, but that's about it. I got to wondering, then, if I could beat a chimp at anything. Like, what if the memory game went sour, and me and Bubbles had to square off? Could I best a chimp in a battle of strength, if not wits?

So here are the contenders:

JGordon, in the blue shorts, six feet of cotton/poly blend, weighing in at a slender one hundred, forty-four pounds. Fighting skills: next to zero, but he's seen a lot of movies, and has a thick skull.

And in the red shorts, Pogo, chimp.
-An aside: I am a firm believer that picking on anyone my own size should be avoided, so, even though adult male chimps can grow (in captivity) to over 170 pounds, my hypothetical opponent will be an average-to-large female chimp, some where in the neighborhood of 120 pounds.-

Anyway, in red shorts, the lady chimp, Poga! Three and a half feet tall, and one hundred twenty pounds! Fighting skills: zero, but her appearance is distractingly hilarious.

So, when the bell rings, what happens?

By all accounts, it does not go well for me.

Chimps, according to every source I could find, are frighteningly strong - something like seven times stronger than an adult human. Possibly stronger than that, even. Being chimps, it's difficult to get them to just show us how much they can bench, but according to this source at least one study has been done to test chimps' pulling strength. In the test, a 165 pound male chimp pulled, with one arm, 847 pounds. And this isn't even necessarily the limit of its strength - it's just when the chimp got bored of pulling. Also - get a load of this - in the same study, a 135 pound female chimp pulled 1,260 pounds! With one arm! I won't get into how much I can lift... but not that much.

So I would lose the fight. But how badly? Well, I couldn't find much on the physical limits of the human body (like "how strong does a chimp have to be to pull my arms off?") but there are some similar cases, which we might use for analogy:

In this horrifying article, we learn that chimps in Uganda have been known to get drunk after raiding illegal beer brewing operations (hidden in national parks), and then attack children visiting the park. According to a biologist studying this unusual behavior, the attacks are carried out thusly: "In most cases they bite off the limbs first before disemboweling them, just as they would the red colombus monkey, which is among their favorite prey."
That doesn't really bear thinking about, plus I'm slightly more robust than your average child, so lets move on...

To this useful article, in which we learn of former NASCAR driver St. James Davis, and his run in with some rowdy chimps. Mr. Davis, it seems, owned a pet chimpanzee for decades before being forced to give it up to an exotic animal sanctuary in California. The pet chimp, Moe, had bitten part of a woman's finger off, but, as Davis said in Moe's defense, "Animals bite, people bite, Mike Tyson bites. So what?" In 2005, St. James Davis and his wife went to visit Moe at the shelter on his birthday. As they were delivering the birthday cake to Moe, however, two chimps from an adjoining cage, Buddy and Ollie, somehow got into Moe's enclosure and attacked Davis. Now, this is a two on one fight, and Buddy and Ollie did get the jump on Davis, but it's a little closer to my imagined cage match. By the time the attacking chimps were subdued (i.e., shot) they had bitten off Davis' nose, and torn off his left foot, most of his fingers, and his, ah, testicles.

So, in short, while there must be activities in which I could defeat a chimpanzee (math maybe, or possibly a foot race), I could not beat one in a fight. And I will never try, because I value my... fingers... so much.


A natural poker face: Chimps prove to be more rational players than humans. Photo by belgianchocolate at

Are chimpanzees smarter than people? Only if you’re a Vulcan who believes that rationality and intelligence are the same thing.

Researchers taught chimps how to play a sharing game. A chip was given a prize, but could only keep it if he offered to share it with the other player, and the other player agreed to take what was offered. If the offer was refused, neither player got anything.

They then taught humans how to play the same game. The researchers found that the chimps always accepted any offer, while the humans often rejected offers that they felt were too low. At the end of the game, the chimps ended up with more prizes than the human players.

According to the article,

The researchers concluded chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. In this way, they protect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair.

An equally valid interpretation would be that the chimps didn’t understand the meaning of “fair” or “unfair.” Another interpretation would be that the chimps figured out this was a stupid game, and accepted every offer just to end it quickly, while the humans tried to figure out how to win.

Perhaps chimps ain’t so dumb after all.

* (With apologies to Abe Simpson)


Pan troglodytes endogenous retrovirus, is perhaps perhaps the coolest named virus. It also may be responsible for humans’ susceptibility to HIV.
A Chimp: Yeah, well at least we won't be catching pan troglodytes any time soon. So look smug about that, chimp.    (photo by AZAdam)
A Chimp: Yeah, well at least we won't be catching pan troglodytes any time soon. So look smug about that, chimp. (photo by AZAdam)

Long extinct, Pan troglodytes (or PtERV1) infected chimps, gorillas, and old world monkeys around four million years ago. Being a retrovirus, PtERV1 left its specific mark on the DNA of these species. Our DNA, however, shows no evidence that humans (or some of our immediate ancestors) were ever infected by the deadly PtERV1. This lead scientists to wonder weather humans had developed some natural resistance to the ancient disease.

Using chimp DNA, scientists reconstructed a small part of the dead virus. When human cells were then exposed to the partial virus, the researchers found that the human antiviral protein TRIM5a neutralized the PtERV1. However, when TRIM5a was reengineered to be more effective against HIV, it lost its resistance PtERV1.

So… in developing a defense against this ancient monkey virus, we became vulnerable to HIV. What a remarkable world.

If my explanation wasn’t good enough…


Gorilla: A gorilla chewing some food.

Biologists working in the rainforest of Africa have documented gorillas using simple tools, such as using a branch to dig for food.

For a long time, scientists thought only humans used tools. In 1960, Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees using tools in the wild—the first non-human species known to use tools. In 1993, Caral van Schaik of Duke University found tool use among orangutans on Borneo. Now, we can add gorillas to the list of tool-using primates.

Humans and gorillas last shared a common ancestor some 5 to 8 million years ago. Apparently, tool-use evolved sometime before then, and has been inherited by both species. Researchers say this discovery will help us understand the evolution of the human species, and the human brain.