Episode 320 – Chimpanzee: Simian Socialites

“…and today we’re talking monkey business. But more on that later.”

Imagine climbing your way to the top of your social order. You’ve made alliances with the right factions and formed a powerful coalition. Now it’s up to you to lead your troop to defend your territory and resources. It’s not the story of an English lord or a French aristocrat, it’s a common tale for chimpanzees. The social lives of chimpanzees are all about politics, grooming, and aggression. But sometimes, even the animal kingdom gets sophisticated in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Chimpanzee

  • Smallish humanoid animal with head, shoulders, knees, and toes
  • Brown or black course hair all over except for the face, ears, feet and hands
  • Black, brown, or beige face with heavy brow, large protruding jaw, flat nostrils, and large ears

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up intro!

Grape Ape


  • 149 cm (4 ft 11 in)
  • How many chimpanzees go into the length of the longest set of monkey bars in the world?
  • Hint: The longest monkey bars were built in Sunshine Wharf Kobe, Japan in April, 2019. The bars included 556 rungs. 
  • 100.6 chimps. 492 feet (149.992 meter)


  • 40–70 kg (88–154 lb)
  • How many single potato chips go into the weight of a chimpanzee?
  • Hint: A potato chip’s weight depends on the size and thickness The earliest known recipe dates back to a 1817 cookbook called The Cook’s Oracle.
  • 35,000 chips. A potato chip averages one or two grams.

Fast Facts

Range: The jungles of west and central Africa. About 15 different countries. It lives in a variety of habitats, including dry savanna, evergreen rainforest, montane forest, swamp forest, and dry woodland-savanna mosaic.

Diet: Omnivorous frugivore, eats mostly fruit. However, it also consumes a variety of other items such as leaves, leaf buds, seeds, blossoms, stems, pith, bark, and resin. In addition to these plant-based foods, the chimpanzee includes honey, soil, insects, birds and their eggs, as well as small to medium-sized mammals, including other primates, in its diet.

Behavior: They modify sticks, rocks, grass, and leaves and use them when foraging for termites and ants, nuts, honey, algae, or water. Despite the lack of complexity, forethought and skill are apparent in making these tools. 

West African chimpanzees crack open hard nuts with stones or branches. Chimpanzees also use leaves as sponges or spoons to drink water. West African chimpanzees in Senegal were found to sharpen sticks with their teeth, which were then used to spear Senegal bushbabies out of small holes in trees.

A chimp named Nim Chimpsky was taught American Sign Language. However, the researchers concluded that Nim’s utterances could be explained merely as prompting on the part of the experimenters, as well as mistakes in reporting the data. “Much of the apes’ behaviour is pure drill”, he said. “Language still stands as an important definition of the human species.” Nim’s sentences also did not grow in length, unlike human children whose vocabulary and sentence length show a strong positive correlation.

Due to their intelligence, chimps have been in movies, shows, circus acts, and even been shot into space

Chimps have a reputation of being able to rip a person’s face off and many people consider them one of the most dangerous species to humans. There have been attacks that have been fatal and have included tearing body parts. Some of the highest rates of fatal attacks are in Uganda, where researchers suspect that chimps sometimes see humans as rivals. They may also be drunk on booze they find lying around.

Major Fact: Simian Socialites

Chimpanzees live in what is called a fission-fusion society, which means group sizes increase and decrease over time. They may break into small groups to forage and look for food and come together to sleep. Food availability may also determine subgroup sizes. They typically live in communities ranging from 15 to over 150 members but often travel in smaller, temporary groups for different purposes. 

Let’s Hear it for the Boys

Social structures revolve around males, who patrol territories, protect group members, and search for food. Males have a linear dominance hierarchy, with top-ranking individuals displaying aggression, especially after reunions following absences. Coalitions among males are formed to enhance dominance, and alliances are fickle. Low-ranking males often switch sides.

Braid My Hair

Mutual grooming is common, particularly among adult males, and is crucial for the formation and maintenance of bonds. A politically active male will try to groom high-ranking males. Being groomed back is a sign of a successful alliance. Dominant males are usually big and strong, but they also have alliances with other strong males. Friends will also greet each other with high-fives, actually it’s more like a palm slide.

Meat Me For Dinner

Meat sharing is also a sign of favor among male chimps. Dominant males will share meat with their allies and snub enemies, low-ranking males, and males threatening their dominance. Hunting is more common when their normal food is abundant, showing that meat is more of a boon and social necessity than a main part of their diet.

Who Run the World?

Social hierarchies among adult females are weaker, but the status of a female can impact her offspring. While chimpanzee social structure is generally considered patriarchal, females may form alliances against males, and there are recorded instances of females securing dominant positions over males in captivity.


Chimpanzees are territorial and may engage in aggressive behavior, including lethal attacks on other chimpanzees. Territories are patrolled, and conflicts over territory are more common than conflicts over mates. Larger groups may take over the territories of smaller groups to access more resources, food, and females. While traditionally believed that only female chimpanzees immigrate, there are confirmed cases of adult males integrating into new communities, suggesting they are less territorial in certain circumstances.

Ending: So use whatever tools you find, let the alphas fight, and tear a man’s face off if he attacks your loved ones like the chimpanzee here in LDT.