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Thursday 20 September 2018

Chimps' beds are a lot cleaner than ours

Chimps build sleeping nests
Chimps build sleeping nests

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.

"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," said US PhD student Megan Thoemmes, who led a team collecting swab samples from 41 chimpanzee nests in the Issa Valley in Tanzania.

Bugs

"For example, about 35pc 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.

"There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at," said Ms Thoemmes. "That's four individual specimens, not four different species.

"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."

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