You probably already know that chimpanzees are our closest living relative. But did you know that chimpanzees and humans are thought to have a common ancestor four to eight million years ago?

Chimpanzees are great apes and are similar to gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. They are mammals that walk on their hind legs and their knuckles.


Where Do They Live?

Chimpanzees live in equatorial Africa. They have been found in 22 different countries, though most live in Gabon and Congo.

They live in a broad range of habitats, from savannas, rainforests, to lowland and mountain forests.

What Do They Look Like?

Chimpanzees have hair over most of their body, but not on their hands, feet, and face. The hair is either black or brown, though they have white beards.

They stand between 4 and 5.5 feet tall and weigh between 70 and 130 pounds. Females are slightly smaller than males.

Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs which allow them to better grab branches. They also have large ears that allow them to hear other chimpanzees in the forest.

What Do They Eat?

Chimpanzees are omnivores that have been recorded eating as many as 80 different food items. They eat mostly fruit, but also eat plants, eggs, and even meat.

Chimpanzees prefer to eat fruit, even when it is not easily available. They spend up to half of their day eating, though this depends on the type of food available.

Many researchers have observed chimpanzees using tools to help gather food. Chimpanzees will use sticks, rocks, and leaves as tools. For example, a chimpanzee will strip a branch of leaves to place it in a hole to collect termites or honey.

Chimpanzees know their territory very well. They have large mental maps of where food is located and can even lead other chimpanzees to food sources.

Feeding is usually an individual activity for a chimpanzee.

How Do They Behave?

Chimpanzees live in large communities of perhaps over 100 chimpanzees. These communities are made up of smaller families of 6 to 10 individuals.

Group of Chimpanzees

All chimpanzees sleep in trees, where they build nests out of leaves and branches.

Communities have a very defined social order, with male chimpanzees being dominant. Each community usually has one male that leads the group.

Male chimpanzees stay with the community that they are born into. Females usually switch communities once they reach adulthood.

Chimpanzees are very social animals. They communicate with others through body language, facial expressions, grooming, hand clapping and kissing.

Chimpanzees can become aggressive within a community and have been known to kill each other.

Life Cycle

The average lifespan for a chimpanzee is 40 to 45 years. Chimpanzees in captivity live considerably longer.

Females give birth for the first time when they are between 12 and 15 years old. Newborns have pink skin under their hair. The skin will darken with age.

Newborn chimpanzees will clasp onto their mother’s chest. They will later ride piggyback on their mother’s back until the age of two.

Chimpanzees are able to walk on their own at four years of age. The bond between mother and child can last a lifetime.

Chimpanzee with infant

Interesting Facts

  • Chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA with humans
  • Chimpanzees have been taught to communicate using human sign language
  • They have been observed creating hammer and anvil tools to open nuts
  • Chimpanzees make toothy “grins” when they are frightened
  • They are capable of recognizing themselves in a mirror
  • Chimpanzees usually cannot swim!