Why Do Chimpanzees Throw Poop?

Anolis01/iStock via Getty Images
Anolis01/iStock via Getty Images

Like simian Nolan Ryans, chimpanzees have garnered a reputation among the rest of the animal kingdom for their pitching prowess. Unfortunately, it’s not baseballs they’re tossing. Chimps have a habit of attacking bystanders by throwing their own feces, tossing poop around like relief pitchers at the bottom of the ninth. It's yet another reason they will never make a good pet.

Why do they do this? And could turd-tossing actually be a sign of intelligence?

According to the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, this type of behavior isn’t usually seen in free-roaming chimps in the wild. While the species is still prone to throwing things, they usually stick to rocks or branches when they want to express their annoyance. In captivity, foreign objects are not usually in abundance, and chimps that are feeling frustrated or anxious will instead opt to toss the one thing that’s in plentiful supply: poop.

Ease of access is not the only reason a chimpanzee will launch feces. When a chimp is in captivity, throwing poop is likely to cause a reaction—either from zoo employees or guests. Chimps will begin to associate the act (throwing fecal matter) to a response (usually surprise or horror). Though this behavior isn’t limited to them—howler monkeys in Belize also do it—chimps are probably the most well-known example. In tossing their crap, chimps realize that they can control the behavior of others to some degree. If they throw an overhand turd, people will run.

A chimpanzee is pictured
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While it would be easy to associate throwing poop with limited intelligence, the opposite might be true. In a 2012 study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, researchers at Emory University found that chimpanzees who had good aim when throwing things had more development in their motor cortex, where physical actions are coordinated. They also had better communication between the cortex and Broca’s area, a portion of the frontal cortex that helps process language in humans. Their left brain hemispheres, which control right-handed behavior, demonstrated more development. The rocket-armed chimps were also typically better communicators within their social groups.

Another indication that hurling poop fastballs is for intellectuals: It might be premeditated. A 2009 article published in Current Biology described a chimp named Satino, a resident of Sweden’s Furuvik Zoo in the 1980s and 1990s, who demonstrated real scheming. Satino was an aggressive chimp (he eventually killed a fellow male chimp) who often tossed rocks at visitors watching him from behind a fence. Because Santino always seemed well-armed, zookeepers investigated his enclosure and found that Santino had been stockpiling rocks from the moat that separated him from the fence. Santino made sure to do this before the zoo opened so he would have ammunition at the ready. He even chipped away at big concrete rocks to craft dinner plate-sized projectiles. Other chimps have been observed to poop in their hands and then wait for an annoying human to pass by.

Lots of things might cause chimps to feel disgruntled. In the wild, it might be having their buttons pushed by other primates. In zoos, they might be upset that people are staring at them and that they're limited in their movements. If you happen to be among those observing chimps in a facility, bear in mind that they might get a little upset. And depending on their aim, so will you.

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Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
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And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

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