Analysis

Why female bonobos are such 'promiscuous primates'

The "lovemaking cousin of the warrior chimp" is happy to kiss and tell if it helps her reach the top of the social ladder 

Bonobos, a close cousin of the more widely known chimpanzee, are willing to do just about anything in the sexual realm if it helps them climb the social ladder. "And, boy, do they like sex," says Jennifer Welsh at LiveScience. Here, a guide to these "promiscuous primates":

Bonobos have a lot of sex?
They sure do. Think of the bonobo as the "lovemaking cousin of the warrior chimp," says Welsh. The animals engage in sexual activity with "virtually all partner combinations in a variety of positions." For them, sexual activity alleviates conflict, demonstrates affection, reduces stress, and — as demonstrated in a new study — helps the primates communicate social status. 

How do they use sex to climb the social ladder?
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports observed primates in three enclosures at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Researchers found that low-ranking females made distinctive sounds — called "copulation calls" — during sex with high-ranking females in order to brag to other top females around them. "Using vocalizations, females only advertise sexual contacts with important group members," says study author Dr. Zanna Clay. "It's all about climbing up the social ladder for female bonobos."

Do all bonobos brag about sex?
No. A high-ranking bonobo typically doesn't brag when having sex with an inferior female — it's only the low-ranking females who call out. And if a group's "alpha" female is within earshot, the inferior female is far more likely to kiss and tell. "They are very aware of the alpha female, who is the most relevant group member," Clay says. "When she's around, they are much more likely to advertise these sexual friendships."

Why are bonobos so concerned with social climbing?
Females leave their original groups as juveniles and join new groups upon adulthood. If a female bonobo can climb to the top of her new social circle by proving her cred with other females, it gives her a much better chance of scoring with the desirable male of her choosing, researchers say.

Sources: BBC News, Global Post, LiveScience, PhysOrg

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