WTF Fun Fact 13668 – Chimpanzees Go Through Menopause

Chimpanzees go through menopause? Well, it makes sense considering all our similarities, right?

Menopause has been a phenomenon largely associated with human existence. However, recent findings have expanded our understanding, revealing that wild female chimpanzees undergo a similar process. This groundbreaking discovery challenges our previous beliefs and opens a new chapter in evolutionary biology.

Finding Out That Chimpanzees Go Through Menopause

Over two decades of meticulous research in Uganda’s Kibale National Park have provided us with invaluable insights. Scientists monitored 185 female chimpanzees, observing their reproductive patterns and hormonal changes. The study’s longevity and depth offer a rare glimpse into the lives of these fascinating creatures.

The study found a clear decline in fertility as the chimpanzees aged, particularly after the age of 30. Notably, none of the observed females gave birth beyond the age of 50, marking a distinct phase akin to human menopause. This shift is not merely a reproductive halt but a complex biological transition.

Mirroring human menopause, older female chimpanzees exhibited significant hormonal changes. An increase in follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, coupled with a decrease in estrogens and progestins, paints a picture strikingly similar to the human experience.

These hormonal fluctuations are more than mere numbers; they signify a profound shift in the chimpanzee’s life stage.

Implications for Evolutionary Biology

The discovery of menopause in wild chimpanzees raises intriguing questions about the evolutionary roots of this phenomenon. If our closest living relatives also experience menopause, it suggests a shared evolutionary path. This revelation compels us to reconsider the “grandmother hypothesis” and other theories explaining why certain species live significantly beyond their reproductive years.

Is the occurrence of menopause in the Ngogo chimpanzee community an anomaly or a common trait among other communities? Factors such as abundant food supply and fewer predators in Ngogo might contribute to their longer lifespans and the occurrence of menopause. To understand this better, comparative studies across various chimpanzee habitats are essential.

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Kin Competition

The “grandmother hypothesis,” suggesting older individuals assist in raising their grandchildren, doesn’t quite fit the chimpanzee social structure. An alternative theory is the “kin competition” hypothesis, where ceasing reproduction might reduce competition for resources among related individuals. Understanding the social dynamics of these primates is key to unraveling the purpose and evolution of menopause.

Expanding research to include bonobos, another close relative to humans, could provide further insights into the evolution of menopause. Do these primates also experience a similar phase, and if so, what can it tell us about our ancestral lineage?

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Source: “Wild Female Chimpanzees Go Through Menopause, Study Finds” — Smithsonian Magazine


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