Arboreal postures elicit hand preference when accessing a hard-to-reach foraging device in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus)

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Arboreal, and in particular suspensory, postures may elicit a preference for the strongest limb to be used in postural support in large bodied primates. However, selection may have favored ambilaterality rather than a preference for a particular hand in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) fishing arboreally for ants. To investigate the influence of arboreality on hand preference we recorded handedness in seven captive bonobos (Pan paniscus) manipulating a foraging device during terrestrial and arboreal postures in a symmetrical environment, observing 2726 bouts of manipulation. When accessing the foraging device in the arboreal position the bonobos adopted predominantly suspensory postures. There was no population level hand preference for manipulating the foraging device in either the terrestrial or arboreal positions. However, four of seven individuals that interacted with the foraging devices showed a significant preference for one hand (two were left handed, two were right handed) when manipulating the foraging device in the arboreal position whereas only one individual (left handed) showed a preference in the terrestrial position. This suggests that individuals may have a preferred or strongest limb for postural support in a symmetrical arboreal environment, resulting in a bias to use the opposite hand for manipulation. However, the hand that is preferred for postural support differs between individuals. Although our sample is for two captive groups at the same zoo, our findings suggest that the demand of maintaining arboreal postures and environmental complexity influence hand preference.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-731
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • captivity , laterality , pan paniscus , posture