Overbearing Ape Mums Help Sons Find Sexual Partners

No, you didn't read that wrong -- a new study has found that bonobo mothers will do absolutely anything to ensure their son mates with a fertile female.

By anything we mean dragging them in front of promising partners, shielding them from other violent males and even keeping guard while their son mates.

It seems the hard work pays off, with males of the species three times more likely to father children than those whose mothers aren't around.

Bonobos tend to be intelligent, sensitive, docile and diplomatic.

They also have a largely matriarchal society, meaning that females have a higher social status than males.

Their behaviour and social structure is the polar opposite of their chimpanzee cousins.

Waiting for a mate, literally. Photo: Getty.

To test the effect that these strong females have on their sons, primatologist and paper co-author Martin Surbeck and his colleagues observed bonobo populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- the only country these great apes are found -- as well as chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Uganda.

Side note: the two share the title of our closest living relative, sharing roughly 99 percent of our DNA.

Researchers found that both bonobo and chimp mothers tried to help their sons find a partner, but bonobo helicopter mums were far more successful.

In chimp society, males are dominant, so the mothers have less influence and virtually none when it comes to their son's mating success.

"The bonobo moms act a bit like social passports," Surbeck told AFP.

Photo: Getty.

"If there's a female who's very attractive, you see moms stick around them, and in the shadow of their moms are the males," he added.

It's when others are interested that the tricks really get dirty.

“Once I saw a mother pulling a male away by the leg,” said Surbeck. “It doesn’t necessarily increase their son’s mating success, but it shows that they really get involved in the whole business.”

But here's the deal: if a mother lost her high rank, her son went down with her and was subsequently less successful in his mating attempts.

"Don't worry, mummy will find you a girlfriend". Photo: Getty.

Bonobos don't go that extra mile for their daughters, nor do they help raise their daughters' young -- basically because it's a waste of time.

Females will often leave the community to find love and raise a family, leaving their male siblings home safe with their mother.

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Now researchers are looking at the benefits of helicopter mothering and whether the mum welcomes female arrivals who go on to become their son's mates.

It seems bonobos really aren't that different to humans.

You can read the full report in Current Biology.