Chimpanzee Anatomy

Chimpanzees is one of our closest living relatives. Therefore, there are many similar physical characteristics that we share. Yet, even though there are a variety of similarities between us and chimpanzees, there are also many differences.


  • Chimpanzees and humans look alike.

  • They have hair, not fur, and can even get bald on their heads as they age.

  • The facial structures of chimps and humans, especially the eyes, ears, and mouth, are also very similar in appearance.

  • Chimpanzees are structured similarly to humans and can walk bipedally, meaning they can walk on two legs rather than four, although they mostly walk on all four limbs.

  • Chimpanzees and humans both have opposable thumbs that make them better at holding and using objects with their hands. Think about how hard it would be to not have thumbs. You would have a hard time tying your shoes or use a pen very easily.

  • The internal anatomy is also almost the same between chimps and humans. The circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems of chimps and humans look almost the same and work in nearly identical ways.



  • Chimpanzees are shorter than we are.

  • They have more hair, but lack the facial hair that adult male humans have.

  • Chimpanzees have bigger eyes, noses and more pronounced eyebrows, which differs from human facial structure.

  • Humansí brains are bigger than chimpsí brains are, so humans have a larger head in proportion to their shoulders and hips than chimpanzees do.

  • Young chimps have a pale face that darkens, as they get older, eventually becoming black, which is a characteristic of an older chimpanzee.

  • Young chimps also have a white tuft of fur on their rumps. This fades and disappears when the chimp becomes an adult. These distinctive marks help to distinguish the young chimps from the adults. The pale face and white tuft of fur are beneficial to the young chimpanzees because an adult chimpanzee is a lot more tolerant of young chimpanzee behavior, that may be perceived as mischievous or annoying, than they are of other chimpanzee behavior.

  • Chimpanzees also have very good senses. They have big round ears to help them hear and wide nostrils to help them smell. Their eyes allow them to see during the day and at night, just like your eyes do.

  • Chimps have incisors, molars, and canines just like human teeth, but their canines are very large and sharp. This helps them to eat a diverse diet that includes many fruits, plants, and even meat.


    Many of the differences between chimpanzees and humans are a result of the different habitats that they live in.


Imagine how good you would be at climbing if you were built like this!


Chimpanzees are built to be efficient when moving around in, and using resources from the forests where they live. Chimpanzees spend 40-60% of each day climbing, resting, or eating in trees during the day. Chimpsí feet are different than ours, with less of an arch and opposable toes so that they can grip branches with their feet. The soles of their feet and palms have no hair and very thick skin that is good for grasping trees and walking on rough surfaces. Chimps have thicker and stronger arms and legs than humans do, and this makes them better at climbing trees. They have longer arms than humans do so they can swing and jump between trees. A chimpís shoulders are also more flexible and stronger to support their weight when they climb. Chimps can also bend their strong fingers into a hook shape to help them when they swing on branches. Imagine if you could swing from one arm on the jungle gym while eating a sandwich, wouldnít that be awesome?


Chimpanzees are only partially bipedal. That means that they only walk on two feet sometimes. Most of the time, they use their arms to help them walk. Humans are more adapted in structure for standing upright, and chimpanzees are more adapted for mostly walking on feet and arms or climbing in trees. The gluteus maximus of a chimpanzee is much smaller than that of a human because it is not needed to keep them upright at all times like humans.

Compared to a human, the skeletal structure of the chimpanzee is bent slightly forward at the waist so that their arms touch the ground when walking. They have arms that are longer than their legs and knuckles that are strong enough for using as support on the ground when they run. Their tough knuckles allow them to walk and run with their hands and feet on the ground. When chimps do this they can go faster and move more efficiently because their arms are longer than legs so this gives them more stability and agility.

Think about how you climb on slippery surfaces: it is easier to keep your balance if you use your arms to help. Females are between 2 and 3.5 feet tall and weigh 57-110 pounds. Males are bigger and much stronger, standing between 3 and 4 feet tall and weighing 90-115 pounds.


Message from CAC'ers

When we were in Tanzania, at Mahale and Gombe, we were struck by all of the physical characteristics that we shared with the chimps we were observing, especially their hands. Their hands are nearly identical to our hands, which just made us all realize how similar we are. We were also taken aback by how large and strong they are, much more so than we humans are. We saw a lot of different foods that chimps like to eat, and we even tasted some of them! As you can see, there are many similarities between chimps and humans.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.