A young chimpanzee plays in the grass

Selecting the perfect blade of grass?

Tonight’s music video is Pomplamoose performing the Beatles “Come Together.”

Chimpanzees in Zambian animal sanctuary have begun putting blades of grass in their ears, an apparent simian fashion trend with no purpose beyond aesthetic enhancement. From The Dodo:

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. There’s no doubt that chimpanzees have culture, as different chimp groups will use unique tools: to groom, to crack open nuts, to fish for termites.

[...] ‘Our observation is quite unique in the sense that nothing seems to be communicated by it,’ says study author Edwin van Leeuwen, a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute in The Netherlands. 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.

[...] The cultural quirk first popped up in 2010 when a chimpanzee, named Julie, was spotted sporting a long-stemmed piece of grass. Julie acted as a role model for the other 11 chimpanzees in her group. As van Leeuwen points out, ‘everybody can wear rings in their ears, but you just have to come to the idea to do it.’ The seven chimps who adopted the grass-in-ear tradition — and who would continue it after Julie’s death — repeatedly inspected her behavior before trying it themselves.

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Photo by Tambako The Jaguar released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.