Bonobo Status Updates

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Ah, the bonobo. In our exhausting, competitive, social-networking world just hearing about these gentle, unique, horny apes can be a calming reminder that life isn’t as entirely made up of aggressive jerks as it sometimes seems to be. The bonobo are a species of ape native to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a species which  remained undiscovered until 1929. They were thought at first to be a subspecies of chimpanzee but differences between these two apes, our closest ancestors (both closer to us than they are to gorillas, according to the Bonobo Conservation Initiative) gradually began to emerge, including their female-dominant society in which sex is used to solve social conflict, decrease stress  and solidify bonds between group members.  Most animals – except for bonobos and ourselves – have sex only to reproduce. Having close ancestors that are lovers, not fighters, certainly offers an intriguing perspective.

Now researchers have found that bonobo females have their own way of letting their social network know what they’re up to, a kind of sexual status update, if you will.  The BBC reports that bonobo females make the most noise during sex when a dominant female is nearby and that if a low-ranking female is having a hot date with a high-ranking female she calls out to let everybody know about it.

Dr. Zanna Clay of Atlanta’s Emory University told Ella Davies of the BBC that these calls advertising a union with a high-ranking female are meant to strengthen the other female’s social position within the group.

“Using vocalizations, females only advertise sexual contacts with important group members. It’s all about climbing the social ladder for bonobos,” Dr. Clay said.

If you click the link above you can hear the promotional calls the females make during sex, which begs the question – are we more evolved because we humans at least usually wait until after we’re done to Tweet, text and talk to each other about our hot date with so and so? Humans certainly do like to share information about our love lives, not just to brag but to bond, to exchange, to share our happiness and excitement…and we do like to be seen as important in our social world. We  just discuss our new relationships (hopefully) in a slightly more demure way than screaming out the window while it’s happening.

It makes you wonder … is the status update in our DNA? Is this the bonobo way of announcing their relationship status? And wouldn’t all bonobo relationship status’ read “It’s complicated”?

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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