A team of researchers has found that male chimpanzees spend more time with their offspring than scientists previously believed. Chimpanzee fathers, which were thought to be unable to recognize their own infants, actually spent a lot of time with mothers in an attempt to protect their offspring. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Wild chimpanzees are promiscuous, with both males and females having many mating partners. Scientists generally believed that male chimpanzees weren’t involved at all in rearing their offspring. It was thought that males may not be able to identify their own infants. Any time spent with the mother of their offspring was considered a mating effort; the males were building a relationship so that they’d be able to mate with that female again in the future.
Researchers studied wild eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. The team observed 19 individual males and 49 mother-infant pairs from a population that has been monitored since the 1960s. They recorded how much time males spent with female-infant pairs and whether or not the infant was sired by the male in question.
The team found that male chimpanzees were much more likely to spend time with female-infant pairs if the infant was their own offspring. Interestingly, this didn’t increase the chance of the female mating with the male in the future. This shows that the males were spending time with the female-infant pair in an attempt to protect their infant. Infants in chimpanzee populations are always at risk of infanticide so these interactions may be important for preventing harm to their offspring.
The team’s findings show that not only do male chimpanzees recognize their offspring but they also spend time with their infants, sometimes prioritizing these interactions over mating efforts. The authors suggest that this may help explain parental behaviors in human males. Paternal care most likely evolved long ago, before the separation of Homo and Pan during evolution.
Murray et al. Chimpanzee fathers bias their behaviour towards their offspring. Royal Society Open Science (2016).