Bilateral asymmetry in the limb bones of the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

L. A. Sarringhaus, J. T. Stock, L. F. Marchant, W. C. McGrew*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


There is much debate in behavioral primatology on the existence of population-level handedness in chimpanzees. The presence or absence of functional laterality in great apes may shed light on the origins of human handedness and on the evolution of cerebral asymmetry. The plasticity of long bone diaphyses in response to mechanical loading allows the functional interpretation of differences in cross-sectional geometric. While left-right asymmetry in upper limb diaphyseal morphology is a known property in human populations, it remains relatively unexplored in apes. We studied bilateral asymmetry in 64 skeletons of wild-caught chimpanzee using the humerus, second metacarpal, and femur. The total subperiosteal area (TA) of the diaphyses was measured at 40% of maximum humeral length and at the midshaft of the metacarpals and femora using external silicone molds. Overall, the TA values of the left humeri were significantly greater than the right, indicating directional asymmetry. This effect was even greater when the magnitude of difference in TA between each pair of humeri was compared. The right second metacarpals showed a tendency toward greater area than did the left, but this did not reach statistical significance. The lack of asymmetry in the femur serves as a lower limb control, and suggests that the upper limb results are not a product of fluctuating asymmetry. These findings imply behavioral laterality in upper limb function in chimpanzees, and suggest a complementary relationship between precision and power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)840-845
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2005


  • Ape
  • Femur
  • Humerus
  • Lateralization
  • Second metacarpal


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