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Who Are Humanity’s Closest Living Relatives According to Genetics and the Fossil Record?

 

We’ve discussed the extinct species of primitive humans that were our ancestors, but what about living relatives. Which surviving members of the animal kingdom are our closest genetic relatives?

 

According to fossil evidence and genetic comparisons, our closest relatives are chimpanzees and bonobos. Our DNA is about a 98% match with these species, which tells us that we had a relatively recent common ancestor. It’s important to note that modern humans did not evolve from chimpanzees and bonobos, we simply shared a chimp-like common ancestor with them.

 

 

(Jutzeler, 2014)

 

Within the animal kingdom, humans are considered to be primates, so we fall within the same group as monkeys, lemurs, and apes. After chimpanzees and bonobos, our next closest relatives are the other members of the Hominidae subfamily, which also includes other Great Apes like gorillas and orangutans.

 

Modern humans share many traits with the Great Apes. Like humans, apes are highly intelligent and emotional creatures compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees and bonobos are both omnivorous like us, though they are slightly more herbivorous leaning than we are. Most Great Apes can also walk on their hind legs alone for short periods of time, a hint at the full bipedalism that human ancestors would eventually evolve. 

 

And we don’t just share traits with apes! We share our opposable thumbs (thumbs that allow us to grasp and hold things), forward-facing eyes, and excellent color vision with most members of the primate kingdom.

Dr. Richard Dawkins explains below how we are related to all apes using a cladogram (a type of family tree).

 

Jutzeler, Susanne (photographer). (2018). Chimpanzee Monkey Ape [photography]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/chimpanzee-monkey-ape-mammal-zoo-3703230/