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What's the Difference between a Bonobo and a Chimp?

4 Ways to Tell the Close Cousins Apart


If you’ve been wondering what the difference is between a bonobo and a chimpanzee, you’re not alone! It’s one of our most frequently asked questions, and we understand why: bonobos and chimpanzees are very visually similar, and they share 99.6% of their DNA, so it can be easy to mistake one for the other.


However, that 0.4% difference is striking, when you look a little closer. Bonobos and chimpanzees are completely different species, and there are several important physical differences you can use to tell them apart.

A bonobo on the left and a chimpanzee on the right
A bonobo on the left and a chimpanzee on the right

1. Bonobos are Smaller


For starters, bonobos typically aren't as heavy as chimpanzees, which is one of the reasons they were initially mistakenly identified as a chimpanzee subspecies, and nicknamed “pygmy chimpanzees.” On average, female bonobos weigh about 74 pounds, while chimpanzee females weigh 93 pounds. Male bonobos are about 100 pounds on average, while male chimpanzees weigh in at around 132 pounds.

A drawing showing male and female bonobos and chimpanzees side by side for comparison. Bonobos are leaner.
Bonobo and chimpanzee body structure (Image by National Geographic.)

Chimpanzees are also slightly taller than bonobos when they stand up on their back legs, with males averaging 4.3 ft tall, compared to bonobo males who are 4.2 ft on average. Bonobos also have a more slender physique, whereas chimpanzee bodies are more stocky and muscular.


2. Bonobos Are More Likely to Walk on Their Two Legs


You also can distinguish them by the way they walk. Bonobos are more bipedal, meaning they are more likely to spend time standing or walking on their two legs. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, are more likely to use all four limbs for support when they move on ground- called quadrupedalism.

Bonobos (left) shown standing, chimpanzee (right) shown sitting
Bonobos (left) are more bipedal than chimpanzees (right)

3. Bonobo Faces are Black with Pink Pigmentation


You can also tell the two species apart by looking at their faces. Chimpanzee babies tend to have lighter colored skin on their face, ears, hands, and feet that tends to get darker as they get older. Bonobo babies, however, tend to have darker skin from the moment of birth.


As adults, bonobos have pink contours around their lips and eyes. Unlike chimps, they have black ears, longer head hair that parts in the middle of their head, and tufts of cheek hair.


Closeup of a bonobo face on the left and chimp face on the right showing differences.

4. Use Your Ears!


Finally, you can rely on your sense of hearing to tell the difference, because bonobos and chimpanzees sound different. Bonobos vocalizations are more high pitched than those of chimpanzees. Chimpanzees also tend to make hooting, grunting, and screaming sounds more often than bonobos.


To recap, the 4 ways bonobos can be visually distinguished from chimps are 1) body size and shape, 2) the way they walk, 3) facial features and 4) the sounds they make.


When it comes to behaviors, the differences between bonobos and chimps are even more stark! Check out our related blog post to find out more.