Zoologists and zoo-goers alike have been studying primates for centuries. Chimpanzees have consistently been known to be intelligent, but what scientists have only recently discovered is that they fashion their beds for optimal sleep. It turns out that there is much more to their bed testing (and building) process than was ever first considered.
Chimpanzees usually sleep eight to nine hours per night, which is slightly longer than the length that is recommended for adult humans. But researchers have taken a closer look to find that the chimps’ methods of choosing materials for their beds, called nests, are more selective than what was assumed.
David Samson, an anthropologist from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, examined the bending strength and stiffness of seven different tree species in western Uganda with his colleagues. The most common species of tree used by the chimpanzees, by 73.6 percent, was Ugandan ironwood, a tree that boasts a very fitting name for its use by primates.
What is even more astonishing is that this particular species of tree only grows throughout 9.6 percent of that region in Uganda. Ironwood touts a smorgasbord of versatile characteristics, allowing it to be a protective and sturdy material, as well as a flexible and comfortable one. Samson reports that the chimpanzees his team studied were able to utilize ironwood’s “locking” capabilities seamlessly. Ironwood’s branches grow with further distances between shoots than other trees, which allow it to be locked into place or woven together with ease.
With both humans and other primates such as orangutans, multiple studies have shown that the longer quality sleep is received, the greater skills like memory and cognition prove to be. This is quite the reward after a day’s hard work of building a nest, especially because chimpanzees usually fashion a new bed every single day for optimal sleep.
It turns out chimps are not just picky about their bedding material, though – they want the perfect set of branches to prop up their nests as well. This would be the equivalent of us humans building or creating a brand new bed frame, mattress, pillow and sheets every single night for our own sleep.
All in all, Samson and his crew analyzed 1,844 of the chimpanzee nests to collect their data. Upon noticing the complexity and detail to which each chimpanzee went to help build its bed, the researchers realized there was likely a bit more to the story than simply fashioning a comfortable nest.
Lions and leopards hunt many chimpanzees and other primates, and the Ugandan ironwood provides materials that are so hardy that they help to protect and shield the chimps from the sight of predators. The intricate beds can also help to insulate during colder seasons.
A few scientists and fellow anthropologists have commented that a study such as this has greatly widened the scope for similar future studies, and will be interested to hear more as research continues. Future investigation on this topic will pay closer attention to the exact materials and methods by which the chimpanzees build their ever-so-satisfactory bedding. In the meantime, chimpanzees across the world will continue to fashion their beds for optimal sleep.
By Brad Johnson