Chimpanzee nests ‘cleaner than human beds’, scientists find
Apes sleep in leafy beds that are surprisingly free of body bacteria and parasites.
Chimpanzee beds are cleaner than human ones, scientists have discovered.
The great apes build complex tree nests out of branches and leaves in which they sleep. And they set an example the average human teenager would find tough to follow.
In fact chimp forest nests contain fewer body bacteria shed by faeces and skin than beds in most human households.
US PhD student Megan Thoemmes, who led a team collecting swab samples from 41 chimpanzee nests in the Issa Valley, Tanzania, said: “We know that human homes are effectively their own ecosystems, and human beds often contain a subset of the taxa – or types – of organisms found in the home.
“For example, about 35% of bacteria in human beds stem from our own bodies, including faecal, oral and skin bacteria.
“We wanted to know how this compares with some of our closest evolutionary relatives, the chimpanzees, which make their own beds daily.”
Compared with human beds, the chimp nests had a much greater variety of bugs – a finding that was not unexpected in tropical forests.
However, they were far less likely to harbour “dirty” faecal, oral or skin bacteria.
“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Ms Thoemmes, from North Carolina State University.
The scientists were in for another shock when they tried to vacuum up parasitic arthropods – fleas and lice – from the chimpanzee nests.
They expected to find hoards of the bloodsuckers, but collected no more than a handful.
Ms Thoemmes said: “There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species.”
She added: “This work really highlights the role that man-made structures play in shaping the ecosystems of our immediate environment.
“In some ways, our attempts to create a clean environment for ourselves may actually make our surroundings less ideal.”
The research appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science.