Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Monkey see, monkey do

This tickles me so much, and it's a wonder that it doesn't tickle them. A troop of chimpanzees* in Zambia have taken to inserting a blade of grass in their ear and letting it dangle – for no discernible purpose. The trend was started in 2010 by a chimp named Julie and has continued after her death. It has previously been proven that chimpanzees have culture, since different groups use unique tools and have their own ways of cracking open nuts and fishing for termites, for instance. But this "grass-in-ear behavior," because there is no reason for it other than fashion, may in fact be the first observed non-human primate fad! To make sure the behavior wasn't random, primatologist Edwin van Leeuwen of the Max Planck Institute in The Netherlands and his colleagues observed 4 troops of chimps at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust for a year and only one of the troops stuck grass in their ears. He describes, The chimps would pick a piece of grass, sometimes fiddle around with it as to make the piece more to their liking, and not until then try and stick it in their ear with one hand. Most of the time, the chimps let the grass hang out of their ear during subsequent behavior like grooming and playing, sometimes for quite prolonged times. As you can imagine, this looks pretty funny.”

* Apes, not monkeys, of course, despite the title of this post.

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