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Male monkeys whose mothers are present during their adolescence have higher chances of survival, study finds

A new study of wild chimpanzees shows that even our closest relatives are mama’s boys.

Researchers discovered that men whose mothers were in their lives between the ages of 10 and 15 had a higher chance of survival compared to those who lost their mothers before ending puberty.

Data show that women leave their birth families in puberty, but young men stay longer and form more lifelong ties with their mothers.

Young chimpanzees can linger to learn the skills they need from their mothers, such as how to avoid predators or search for food.

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Researchers found that men whose mothers were in their lives between the ages of 10 and 15 had a higher chance of survival - compared to those who lost their mothers before ending puberty

Researchers found that men whose mothers were in their lives between the ages of 10 and 15 had a higher chance of survival – compared to those who lost their mothers before ending puberty

“Chimpanzees (Pan-cavemen) are long-lived mammals with a prolonged period of immatureness during which offspring continue to travel with their mother,” reads the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

“Unlike most mammals, chimpanzees are also typically male philopatic.

“Here we use more than 50 years of demographic data from two communities in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to investigate the survival and lifespan of both male and female chimpanzees who have suffered maternal loss in three different age groups.”

Primatologist Jane Goodall began to observe Tanzanian wild chimpanzees in the 1960s.

She took notes on matters such as births, deaths, families and how the animals interact.

Now a team from Franklin & Marshall Collage has collected this data that contains information about 247 chimpanzees to understand the impact of having or losing a mother at different stages of their lives – the team collaborates with researchers from George Washington University and Duke University for the study.

Data show that women leave their birth families in puberty, but young men stay longer and form more lifelong ties with their mothers. Young chimpanzees can linger to learn their mother's skills, such as how to avoid predators or search for food

Data show that women leave their birth families in puberty, but young men stay longer and form more lifelong ties with their mothers. Young chimpanzees can linger to learn their mother's skills, such as how to avoid predators or search for food

Data show that women leave their birth families in puberty, but young men stay longer and form more lifelong ties with their mothers. Young chimpanzees can linger to learn their mother’s skills, such as how to avoid predators or search for food

Most importantly, the data showed that chimpanzees whose mothers were still around their tenth birthday lived longer than their orphans.

However, sons appeared to have the most impact on losing their mothers at a later age than young women.

Sons whose mothers were still between the ages of 10 and 15 were more likely to survive than sons who lost their mothers at the time, while daughters did well anyway.

In Gombe National Park, half of all chimpanzee females leave their birth families in puberty.

But adolescent men remain seated, which means that mothers and sons are more likely to form lifelong ties.

Exactly how a mother’s continued presence improves the survival of her adolescent offspring is still unclear, the researchers say.

Unlike other animals, primates such as chimpanzees and humans need much more time to grow into adults who can take care of themselves.

Primatologist Jane Goodall (photo) began to observe Tanzanian wild chimpanzees in the 1960s

Primatologist Jane Goodall (photo) began to observe Tanzanian wild chimpanzees in the 1960s

Primatologist Jane Goodall (photo) began to observe Tanzanian wild chimpanzees in the 1960s

And just like us, young chimpanzees stay with their mother for at least four to five years.

“Primates are unique in having a very long period of youthfulness,” said associate professor Elizabeth Lonsdorf of Franklin & Marshall College.

Young adult chimpanzees are known to turn to their mothers for comfort or reassurance after arguing with other members of their group, said senior author Anne Pusey, professor emerita of evolutionary anthropology at Duke.

She remembers a time in Gombe in the early 1970s when she saw a 20-year-old man named Figan hurt his hand during a tense encounter with another man.

“He just screamed at his mother,” Pusey said.

“The next week he constantly traveled with his mother while his hand got better.”

The researchers also believe that young chimpanzees can stay with their mothers to learn survival skills, such as how to avoid predators or how to get food.

“Much more research needs to be done into what mother actually does,” Pusey said.

But the homecoming is that, although the role of a mother may change after the nursing years, she also continues to matter when her offspring are almost mature, especially for her sons.

“Even after babies are weaned, mothers somehow matter,” said Margaret Stanton, guest professor at Franklin & Marshall College and lead author of the study.

WHAT DOES THE DIET OF A CHIMP TELL US EARLY ANCESTORS?

According to the study, nutrients may be present in the water unintentionally supplemented their diet with essential ingredients for brain development.

The team mainly observed women and chimpanzees who caught and ate the crabs while the males ‘least likely’ ate the shellfish – ants instead.

The team believes that this is because the protein and salts were important for women – especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding – and for breeding young animals.

The aquatic fauna that our ancient ancestors consumed probably provided essential long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, required for optimal brain growth and function and ultimately leading to human evolution.

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