Even though chimp dads really like to get down with members of the opposite sex, they still care about their offspring and are better dads than we thought
Chimps, humanity’s closest relatives, are highly promiscuous. Researchers previously believed that males are only interested in creating offspring and after that, it’s hands-off for them. Many biologists even doubted whether chimps can recognize their own offspring. But this is not the case – well, not necessarily.
Although dad chimps don’t spend that much time with their offspring, they do spend time with females who take care of their offspring. Initially, the hypothesis was that they want to mate with these females because they are good carers, but this was disproven with 25 years of behavioral data gathered by the Jane Goodall Institute and digitized at several universities and research centers.
The data indicates not only that chimps can recognize their offspring, but they are invested in their wellbeing – both directly and indirectly. Chimp dads also spend more time grooming and looking after their offspring than many believed.
“Our findings are not only further evidence that chimpanzee fathers recognize their offspring in a promiscuous species, but also that fathers behave differently around their offspring,” said Margaret Stanton, postdoctoral scientist at GW’s Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology and co-author of the paper.
This study could be significant not only for chimps, but for humans also. Chimps are our closest living relatives, and understanding how their paternal behavior evolved could help us understand our own behavior more.
“As anthropologists, we want to understand what patterns could have existed early in human evolution that help explain how human behavior evolved,” said Carson Murray, assistant professor of anthropology at the George Washington University and lead author of the paper. “This research suggests that males may sometimes prioritize relationships with their offspring rather than with potential mates. For a species without pair-bonds where it was assumed fathers didn’t know which infants were their own, this is an important finding.”
However, this is still only a piece of the anthropological puzzle. Human dads exhibit very different behaviors, and in today’s world, societal impact is likely much stronger than the biological impact.
Journal Reference: Carson M. Murray, Margaret A. Stanton, Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf, Emily E. Wroblewski, Anne E. Pusey. Chimpanzee fathers bias their behaviour towards their offspring. Royal Society Open Science, 2016; 3 (11): 160441 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160441