Study Proves Female Solidarity Isn't Just for Humans

July 26th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Apparently women — that is to say, female humans — aren't the only ones working together to defend against threatening males of their species. Female bonobos — which are also called pygmy chimpanzees — also recognize the importance of female solidarity, a new study published in the journal Animal Behaviour found.

Researchers at Kyoto University spent four years studying bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo and discovered a unique behavior among female bonobos: They form all-female coalitions to attack males that act aggressively toward them.

"We may have uncovered one of the ways in which females maintain a superior status in bonobo society," Nahoko Tokuyama, the study's lead author, said in a press release.

Though coalition-forming is common in primate society, these all-female coalitions are particularly interesting because they consist of non-relatives. And while the typical function of female coalitions in other species is to "cope with competition," female bonobos form coalitions "as a counter-strategy against male harassment," the researchers wrote.

Female bonobos don't play favorites, either. It doesn't matter if a young female bonobo is friendly to an older female: The older female will come to the aid of any young female who is mistreated by a male, regardless of their relationship.

"Young females have a lower social status than males, but protection from older females [seems] to let young females join the group without fear of being attacked by males," Tokuyama said. "By controlling aggression by males in this manner, females maintain overall superiority in the social hierarchy."

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