Chimpanzees Have Discovered Dumb Fashion Trends

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Photo: van Leeuwen, et al.

Chimpanzees, a longtime nemesis of Science of Us, have made recent, disturbing progress in the previously human-dominated fields of game-theory strategizing and memorization tasks. And now the beasts appear to be advancing further onto our turf, reports the Dodo: They've discovered dumb fashion trends.

As the site writes:

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.

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To figure out if this was really a tradition, and not just chimpanzees sticking grass in their ears at random, [Edwin van Leeuwen, a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute in The Netherlands] 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. 

What's next, entrepreneurial chimps creating trendy desserts out of ingenious combinations of termites and leaves? Stop copying us, chimps.