Sleeping in a chimpanzee’s bed might give you a cleaner night’s sleep than kipping in your own. This is what a new study is claiming, after finding a significantly lower number of body-derived bacteria in chimpanzee nests compared to the beds of people.
The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, has looked at the diversity of bacteria found in the beds of chimpanzees – also known as nests – which they build in the trees every single night by bending and weaving branches. They found that the nests harbored fewer bacteria from their bodies than human beds, but crucially the study did not assess the overall number of bacteria.
“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,” explained study co-author Megan Thoemmes. “For example, about 35 percent of bacteria in human beds stem from our own bodies, including fecal, 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.”
By taking swabs from 41 abandoned chimpanzee nests dotted around the Issa Valley, Tanzania, researchers were able to build up a picture of the diversity of microorganisms living in the apes’ beds.
They found that while the diversity of bacteria living in the nests was much greater than what was found in human beds – which is hardly surprising considering they are living in forests – the proportion of microorganisms that come from the body was much smaller. In fact, they discovered that just 3.5 percent of the bacteria sampled from the nests was derived from chimpanzee skin, saliva, or feces.
Considering chimpanzees are not exactly known for washing on a regular basis, and so were expected to be harboring more fecal bacteria on their fur, the team were expecting this figure to be much higher. They also found that the number of parasites – in this case, ticks and fleas – was far lower than predicted, with just four turning up in all of the nests studied.
This would make it seem like our hairy cousins have a much more hygienic sleeping arrangement than ourselves, which when you consider we sleep in the same place most nights, might not be much of a shock. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, will make a new nest every single night, thought partly to do with trying to reduce the build-up of pathogens, but also to reduce the chances of being caught by predators.
But the problem with this study is that all it focused on was the diversity of the bacteria found in these nests and where that bacteria was derived from, rather than the total number. The researchers don’t note how much bacteria is present in chimp nests compared to human beds.