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It’s a trend that’s taken a troop of chimpanzees by storm: a blade of grass dangling from an ear. The "grass-in-ear behavior," as scientists have termed it, seems to be one of the first times that chimpanzees have created a tradition with no discernible purpose -- a primate fashion statement, in other words.
To figure out if this was really a tradition, and not just chimpanzees sticking grass in their ears at random, van Leeuwen and his colleagues spent a year observing four chimp groups in Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, a sanctuary in Zambia. Only one troop performed the grass-in-ear behavior, although all of the chimps lived in the same grassy territory. There’s no genetic or ecological factors, the scientists believe, that would account for this behavior -- only culture.
Lydia Luncz, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who was not involved with the research, agrees. This study shows how the chimpanzees who learned to put grass in their ears did so through the “natural transmission” of new behavior, she says.
If we have souls, what do chimps have?
We wouldn't even have internet without one of our hairy ancestors having the idea of fashion, culture and hitting other things with rocks and sticks.
I've often wondered. There's no denying they have emotions and am particularly struck by displays of compassion and empathy.
One look at the first picture and I suspect it's to help them tell wind direction - the wind blows on the grass and they feel it in their ear. It's probably a lot more sensitive than their fur, allowing them to sense minor changes in the breeze.
Chimpanzees Have Discovered Dumb Fashion Trends
To figure out if this was really a tradition, and not just chimpanzees sticking grass in their ears at random, van Leeuwen and his colleagues spent a year observing four chimp groups in Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, a sanctuary in Zambia. Only one troop performed the grass-in-ear behavior, although all of the chimps lived in the same grassy territory. There’s no genetic or ecological factors, the scientists believe, that would account for this behavior — only culture.
A group-specific arbitrary tradition in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
While the rigour of experimental studies is helpful to investigate social learning mechanisms, documentation of naturally occurring traditions is necessary to understand the relevance of social learning in the real lives of animals. In this study, we report on chimpanzees spontaneously copying a seemingly non-adaptive behaviour (“grass-in-ear behaviour”). The behaviour entailed chimpanzees selecting a stiff, straw-like blade of grass, inserting the grass into one of their own ears, adjusting the position, and then leaving it in their ear during subsequent activities. Using a daily focal follow procedure, over the course of 1 year, we observed 8 (out of 12) group members engaging in this peculiar behaviour. Importantly, in the three neighbouring groups of chimpanzees (n = 82), this behaviour was only observed once, indicating that ecological factors were not determiners of the prevalence of this behaviour. These observations show that chimpanzees have a tendency to copy each other’s behaviour, even when the adaptive value of the behaviour is presumably absent.
originally posted by: purplemer
a reply to: peskyhumans
I do wonder too if it is being used for a tool still and that we just cannot see what it is... But I would give the scientists some credence they have been studying them for four years....