Chimpanzees Are Extremely Picky About Where They Sleep


The primates painstakingly rebuild their nest from scratch every night—a pre-bed ritual reminiscent of the "Princess and the Pea".


Most humans have a pre-bed ritual. This might include things like showing, brushing teeth, flossing, getting a glass of water and setting an alarm. But regardless of the particulars prior to turning off the lights, night after night, those activities usually lead us to the exact same place: the comfort and familiarity of our bed.

Chimpanzees, on the other hand, completely upturn a human’s ideal of preparing for a good night’s sleep. Like a ritualistic Ragnarok of slumber, each night chimps recreate their place of rest, constructing a brand new sleeping nest from scratch. This time-consuming task involves bending and breaking stiff stems and interweaving it with foliage to create a thick, bouncy mattress-like structure.

Finding a branch to build a nest and gathering fresh twigs and leaves—the animal equivalent to bed frames, blankets and pillows—each and every evening seems like tedious, tiresome tasks, but chimps go about it with a nitpicky reverence for detail. As new research published in PLoS One reveals, any old tree in the forest will not satisfy a discerning chimp looking to construct his or her one-use-only nest. Rather, selecting a suitable place to sleep involves finding the perfect branch on the perfect tree—the princess, ensuring that her bed is free of any potential peas. 

Researchers have long suspected that chimps are pretty picky sleepers, but no one has quantified just what standards those animals look for in choosing a nightly nesting site. The authors of the new study sampled 1,844 nests at Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve in southwest Uganda. They recorded the type of tree each of those nests occurred in, along with the physical characteristics of the trees, including branch stiffness and bending strength and leaf shape and density. All together, they gathered data from seven different tree species that the chimps used.

Written By: Rachel Nuwer
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