Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Bonobos Among Other Things
This post is just for Jason.
The bonobo, or more commonly known as the pygmy chimpanzee, is one of the five great apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gibbons, and bonobos) that inhabit the natural world. Being apes, they differ from monkeys in two major ways. First, they lack an external tail. I specify, "external," because anyone that has broken their tailbone knows that at the end of our spine exists a vestigial bone piece known as the cocyx. This bone represents what is left of a tail after millions of years of evolution deemed that it was unnecessary for us as upright, bipedal animals. Apes also share this morphological characteristic. Monkeys, on the other hand, have an external and obvious tail, with the exception of a particular species of baboon. Second, apes, in general, are much larger than monkeys. Again, as with anything in science, there is one exception to this rule, and that is the gibbon. Gibbons tend to be on the smaller side, while their tail-bearing baboon relatives often outweigh them.
One could add a third distinction here, but truthfully, it is much more debatable than the others. This of course is intelligence. Having the largest brain to spine ratio, apes have developed complicated mental structures that allow them to perform such remarkable tasks as using tools and establishing rudimentary cultures. In particular, the bonobo and its larger relative the chimpanzee are well-known for their use of twigs to retrieve termites from the otherwise impenetrable mounds that they inhabit.
The most notable distinction about bonobos however is their DNA, particularly the amount of it that is found to be similar to our own. Recent studies suggest that the bonobo shares as much as 99.4% of the DNA that our own species does. This makes the bonobo more related to our species than to gorillas, orangutans, or gibbons.
There are a number of remarkable facts to be learned about this amazing animal, but I'll just leave you to google them if you'd like to learn more. I would like to leave you with this thought however. The bonobo, like a number of other species on this planet, lives in one particular location (in this case, the Congo rainforest). It's existence is currently classified as endangered, threatened by both habitat loss and the bushmeat trade (increasing lately due to the civil unrest and presence of heavily armed militia in the forests). Because it inhabits a specific habitat, once that habitat is gone, the bonobo (our closest living animal relative) will be lost forever as well. Just something to think about.
And Jas....tag, you're it. (wink)