How do chimpanzees walk?

November 26th, 2016 by Diana

Chimpanzees are considered quadrupedal (walking on four limbs), but they don’t have four legs like many other mammal species. Like humans, they have two legs and two arms. They not only share our handy (pun intended) opposable thumbs, but they have “thumbs” (technically referred to opposable toes) on their feet too.



Animals with four legs generally have limbs that are pretty much equal in length and they walk on the same part of each of their feet. Chimpanzees have long arms with long-fingered hands and they bend their fingers underneath, walking on the knuckles of their hands and the flat part of their feet.




One cool thing about knuckle-walking is that it leaves your hands free to carry your dolls:

Foxie and friends


While chimpanzees are mainly quadrupedal when walking and standing (of course they can also swing through the trees), there are times when they stand up on their feet and sometimes walk bipedally like us humans.

At the sanctuary, a frequent reason to stand up is to spy on the neighbors or spot something at a distance:

Jamie spying on neighbor

Negra standing and looking


Foxie with new brown haired troll doll

Missy bipedal from behind


Another pretty practical reason to walk bipedally is when your hands or arms are really full:


Jody holding snow 1




bipedal Jamie




Being short myself, maybe I’m projecting this on to Missy, but I think I stand up straighter and raise up on my tip toes a lot more than less vertically-challenged people, so I equate this to Missy standing up just to be taller once in a while:

web Missy bipedal on beam YH IMG_4152


Missy bipedal, playface


Annie, however, is somewhat of an exception. We don’t really know why, but she tends to stand and walk bipedally more often than not when she’s in the grass on Young’s Hill, even when her hands aren’t full and she’s not trying to spy on something at a distance.





web annie bipedal 2 yh grass

Annie walking in the tall grass


13 Responses to “How do chimpanzees walk?”

  1. Meg says:

    Maybe she’s in the process of evolving!

    • Francoise says:

      I don’t want them to evolve! I think they’re perfect as they are. And also that would assume that we are at a higher level of evolution. We are a branch on the evolutionary tree not the crown. But I get your humour!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Wow, that was really interesting. Thank you

  3. I love these shots.

    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t their feet NOT oriented to the horizontal like humans? Meaning, they’re not flat-footed. Orangutans being arborheal, have feet oriented around 60-80-degrees to the vertical, since they spend most of their time in the tree canopies and need their feet to be able to cling to vertical trunks. This means it’s difficult to walk flat-footed like a human, since their feet are not flat to the ground.

    I’ve not seen it mentioned, but I’m also assuming this may be true for the common chimpanzees and the bonobos as well. Hope I haven’t assumed this incorrectly.

    Thanks again. These are truly great. I love watching any of the great apes walk bipedally. Sometimes they look so out of place, like a linebacker at a tea party. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Franni says:

    What’s the blue rope-like thing around Annie’s waist in the third picture down? Did she put that on herself?

  5. C. S. says:

    Apes are one of the few simian species that swing under branches instead of walking over them. Their/our wrists stiffened thanks to a mutation that stayed because it’s handy for catching branches while flying.
    Now they/we can’t walk on the palm of the hand anymore, but no problem, hanging from a tree branch the head and legs are already in the right position to walk upright.
    Humans walk on two legs, our arms are short.
    Gibbons (the ‘lesser apes’, but still apes) walk on two legs, they have proportionally the longest arms.
    Gorilla’s walk on their knuckles, Orang-Utans on their fists, they are very heavy.
    Chimpanzees walk on their knuckles, they can’t stretch their knees.
    Bonobo’s walk about evenly on two and on four ‘legs’.
    But all apes, all monkeys, can and do walk on two legs. Our, among simians, unique foot with five toes in a row is not so much for walking as for fast and/or long-distance running.

    That’s all for today, hope somebody finds this interesting, C. S.

    • *Gorillas


      And with Orangutans, they don’t fist-walk on their hind feet. Because their feet are not oriented to the horizontal like ours, as I said, they end up walking on what would be the outsides of our hands.

      I’ve been away for a bit, so this is the first post I’ve seen of yours. When you say, “that’s all for today”, do you usually post a blog post in reply to theirs? And are you a primatologist or anthropologist? You are obviously interested in primates.

      Cheers. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • C. S. says:

        Nah, that was just a joke because it became sort of a lecture.
        Have been interested in Chimps and apes in general since childhood, that’s over fifty years now. Read everything I could find.
        You are right about Orang Utans, some walk more on the side of their hands too.
        If our arms weren’t so short (about 20% shorter than our legs) we would probably knuckle walk or fist walk every now and then. Well, I would.

        Bye, C. S.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Great post. I just love Missy’s solid little bod. She does stand out from the crowd (case in point photo #9 โ€” adorable!!)! I notice Annie walking bipedally in your photos and videos and find it very curious. I wondered if she did it to be able to see in the distance since in the earlier days she was more fearful of venturing out onto Young’s HIll. I guess, like wearing her snazzy head band as a sporty belt, it is simply her personal style. : )

  7. Jo says:

    Maybe the grasses tickle her arms and underarms ~ giggle!

  8. Francoise says:

    Only Burrito would be wasting no food time and eating on the run. What a guy.