Chimpanzee Taxonomy

Chimpanzees are one of our closest extant, living, relatives. Let us look closer at their classification and evolutionary history to understand how this has happened. Ordering animals into a particular classification is the way by which scientists organize and understand how animals are related to one another.

 

  • Kingdom- Animalia

  • Phylum- Chordata

  • Class- Mammalia

  • Order- Primates

  • Family- Hominidae

  • Genus- Pan

          Species- Pan troglodytes

  • Kingdom- Animalia

  • Phylum- Chordata

  • Class- Mammalia

  • Order- Primates

  • Family- Hominidae

  • Genus- Homo

Species- Homo sapiens

Humans and Chimpanzees are in the same kingdom, phylum, class, order, and family. This meaning that they are both animals who possess backbones, are endothermic (can maintain their own body temperature) and have mammary glands as well as hair or fur. They are both primates which includes all primate species,  and are in the same family which includes all of the great apes including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. Humans and chimpanzees only differ in their genus and species, which simply means that humans and chimpanzees are not exactly identical in all characteristics, but that they are exceedingly similar in many ways. But exactly how did humans and chimpanzees become so closely related?

Chimpanzee taxonomy

Most classification over the years has been done based on homologous, or shared similar traits, between animals. It makes it easier for scientists to determine what we humans have in common with other species, but this is not the only way to clearly see the close relatedness of humans and chimpanzees.

 

 

All primates share a common ancestor, a relative who lived before them from which the primate including chimps and humans evolved. The Hominoid common ancestor existed somewhere between 8 and 5 million years ago, just think about how long ago that was! Evolution is the process by which our genetic material, the part of biology that makes people unique, changes through time. Humans and chimps diverged from one another roughly around 6 million years ago.

 

There is evidence in the form of fossils and genetic composition, which supports the theory that, other than the bonobo, the chimpanzee are our closest living relative.  Fossil evidence has come from all over the world to support the evolution of humans from other hominid species, but there has been a particular hot spot in Africa. This is very interesting since many primate species including the chimpanzees and gorillas are found in Africa. Olduvai gorge, Laetoli, and the Great Rift Valley were all very famous paleontological sites where fossils have been found. Many fossils have appeared to be half human and half chimpanzee, giving us another reason to believe that we are very closely related to chimps.  A common location from which we all seem to stem supports the notion that we are very closely related to chimpanzees.

 

In addition to fossil evidence that links humans as having evolved from the same lineage that chimpanzee come from, there is also DNA evidence. DNA is found in our chromosome within the cells of our body and it holds the genetic information that makes each one of us unique. Scientists have been able to remove DNA from the cells of humans and chimpanzees alike to determine that we share 98% of our genes. This means that there is only 2% genetic material that makes you unique from a chimpanzee!

 

 Message from CAC'ers

 

While in Africa we reflected upon where and from whom we as humans originated. The feeling of staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, which evolved from the same ancestor that we have evolved from, was remarkable. It was like staring into the eyes of a person that has changed looks over a few years. You may not always recognize the outward appearance of a haircut, color, or body size but the eyes are never changing and always remain constant over time.  Standing in Africa, where we as the human race evolved, while looking into the similar but never before seen eyes of a closely related chimpanzees was amazing. It felt like visiting our homeland and meeting the relatives that live in this far off land that we have, in our lifetime, never before seen.

 

 

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.