Is a Chimpanzee’s Bed Cleaner Than Yours?


Chimps sleep in nests, but they only spend a single night in each one.
Chimps sleep in nests, but they only spend a single night in each one.

Our bedrooms feel like cozy, tidy cocoons, insulated from the outside world. But they have ecosystems all their own, teeming with bacteria and other microscopic life, both from the body’s resident biome and from what we bring in with us from beyond the threshold. The chimpanzee equivalent of a bedroom is an aerie—a woven nest of branches and leaves in a tree. Recently, a group of researchers led by Megan S. Thoemmes, a graduate student in ecology at North Carolina State University, wanted to know whether their bedrooms are any tidier, microbially speaking, than human ones.

To find out, they studied 41 abandoned chimpanzee beds in the Issa Valley, in western Tanzania. (Chimps spend a single night in a nest before moving on to another, and it’s best not to disturb them when they’re up there.) The researchers swabbed for microbes, and sucked arthropods, such as spiders or mites, up with a vacuum.

Coauthor Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar swabs leaves in chimpanzee nest for microbes.
Coauthor Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar swabs…
Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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