Reasons to Believe

Chimpanzees' Sleeping Habits Closer to Hominid Behavior Than to Humans'

Nothing beats a Sunday afternoon nap. And in the right spot—be it the bed, couch, or hammock—it's true bliss. Weary humans aren't the only creatures scouting out the best places to sleep. Primatologists from the US report that wild chimpanzees know how to choose the right spot for a comfy snooze.

Field observations indicate that chimps expend a lot of time and energy determining where they sleep and how they construct their treetop beds.1 These apes bunk as far from the main trunk as possible—with an escape route to neighboring trees. They also carefully select branches made of the stiffest possible material with the greatest bending strength.

Evolutionists often cite such findings as support of human evolution, presuming that this chimp behavior foreshadows modern humans' advanced cognitive abilities. But in light of hominid behavior, chimps' picky nesting can be interpreted to support a creation model for human origins.

Sleeping Tight in the Ironwood Trees

It's well known that great apes daily construct sleeping platforms. Researchers have observed these creatures choosing certain tree species as a place to build their beds. Until recently, there was no clear indication why one tree species is chosen over other options. At the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve in Uganda, primatologists observed chimps preferring to make their beds in the Ugandan ironwood. This tree makes up only about 10 percent of the trees in the forest. Yet 75 percent of nests are made in these trees. To solve the mystery, the US team studied mechanical properties of 325 branches taken from the seven most commonly used nesting trees.

It turns out ironwood branches are the stiffest and have the greatest bending strength and smallest leaf surface area. This allows chimps to construct concave beds (using a basket weave technique that produces the greatest number of interlocking points) to prevent falls, as well as provide comfort and insulation and perhaps even ward off pests. The team concluded that chimpanzees seem to understand mechanical and other properties of the nesting branches, employing a sophisticated technique to weave stable, durable nest structures.

Implications for Human Origins Models

This is not the first time researchers have observed chimps engaged in relatively sophisticated behavior. These apes use caves to avoid overheating on hot days, hunt with spears, and make tools from a variety of materials, including stones. But, as remarkable as this behavior is, there remains a profound difference between chimps' cognitive abilities and humanity's capacity for rational and symbolic thought, language use, and musical, artistic, and religious expression.

Chimpanzee behavior is closer to what we infer about hominid behavior from the fossil record, particularly Homo habilis and Homo erectus. These creatures, too, made tools and engaged in hunting and scavenging activity. The temptation is to see hominid behavior as transitional, representing a path to modern human behavior. Yet the newly recognized behavior of chimpanzees distances the hominids from modern humans. Just because the habilines and erectines made tools and engaged in other remarkable behaviors doesn't mean that they were "becoming human." Instead, their behavior appears to be increasingly animal-like, particularly when compared to chimp activities.

RTB's biblical creation model for human origins views the hominds as creatures, created by God's divine fiat, possessing intelligence and emotional capacity. These animals were able to employ crude tools and even adopt some level of "culture," much like baboons, gorillas, and chimpanzees. But they were not spiritual beings made in God's image. That position—and all of the intellectual, relational, and symbolic capabilities that come with it—remains reserved for modern humans alone.

Subjects: Humans vs. Chimps

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana

References:

  1. David R. Samson and Kevin D. Hunt, "Chimpanzees Preferentially Select Sleeping Platform Construction Tree Species with Biomechanical Properties that Yield Stable, Firm, but Compliant Nests," PLoS ONE 9 (April 16, 2014): e95361, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095361.