Chimpanzees Can Develop Their Own Fashion Trends


This summer’s hottest accessory is a single piece of grass shoved into your ear canal at a jaunty and carefree angle. Ok, fine, this is only a trend among a specific troop of chimpanzees in Zambia, but it could catch on. You never know. I mean, if wedge sneakers can become a thing, anything is possible.

A new study from the scientific journal Animal Cognition finds that chimpanzees are capable of creating and adopting fads — in this case, “grass-in-ear behaviour,” which is all the rage in one chimp group at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust, a sanctuary in Zambia. Grass-in-ear was invented in 2010 by a chimp named Julie, who is essentially the Coco Chanel of chimps (“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury” – Julie, 2010, while placing a long blade of grass into her ear).

According to study author Edwin van Leeuwen, Julie acted as a role model for the 11 other chimps in her group, who repeatedly inspected her behavior before copying it themselves. They enjoyed it so much, in fact, that they continued doing it after her death. This is all especially interesting because it’s the first time chimpanzees have been seeing exhibiting a collective behavior with no discernible purpose. There’s no evolutionary or communicative benefit, as far as the researchers can tell — grass-in-ear is just around for fashion reasons.

Chimps: they’re just like us! As van Leeuwen told the Dodo, “everybody can wear rings in their ears, but you just have to come to the idea to do it… Any kind of subculture fad in human culture, I’d say, could be the parallel to this grass-in-ear behavior. Perhaps wearing earrings or certain kinds of hats.” I mean. There are lots of hats out there that look stupider than the ear-grass. I’m with the chimpanzees on this.

I hope this natural transmission of new behavior spreads to other primate groups, mostly because I would like to be alive when the first simian lifestyle blog goes online.

Image via Getty.

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