If you have ever watched a nature documentary, particular one narrated by everyone’s favourite David Attenborough, there is a good chance you will have seen a sequence involving chimpanzees (or similar primates). Charismatic and inquisitive, chimps make for great TV. If they include a baby or two you are on to a sure fire winner.
As well as being cute, baby chimps are usually a good source of laughs. Whether it is rolling around in leaves, falling off branches or running scared to their mum’s, they are as clumsy as they are entertaining. Once they have had enough fun and the troop is on the move, they can then hitch a ride on mum simply by holding on tight enough to her fur.
Despite their clumsy nature, and to be fair they are still growing and developing, it should be obvious to anyone who has seen a human baby how chimpfants are actually rather robust.
It is no secret I am in the process of preparing for the arrival of my first baby, and while my wife is currently doing all the work growing the babby, I have dived into the world of prams, cots and car seats. I could lie and say it is hard work, but let’s be honest I love it. It does leave me thinking though about just how dependent human babies are, and when you compare them with the chimp nippers they seem rather brittle.
You’ll never get a chimp in that pram
Being born helpless of course comes with its own sciencey sounding name, altriciality. Humans are not the only species who give birth to dependent babies, lots of bird chicks are helpless at birth, as are puppies and kittens. Most primate babies are actually altricial at birth, but they are soon ahead of us humans in the development stakes. If you look at the collection of devices piling up in my house to keep baby warm and safe and comfortable, and compare it with the chimpanzee with nothing, then it is clear humans are the tortoise to the chimps’ hare in the development race.
Traditionally, this has been considered the Obstetric Dilemma. First proposed in 1960, the hypothesis essential suggests human babies are born prematurely (at least compared to other primates) as a result of humans evolving to walk on two legs. Bipedalism (no, I haven’t just got myself a new science dictionary…) necessarily involves changes to the shape of the pelvis in humans, and as a compromise babies need to be born earlier in their development to avoid getting stuck.
The only problem with this, well actually one of a few problems with the hypothesis, human pregnancies last longer proportionally for our size than other primates do. While the hypothesis has not been disproven, and given in science nothing can ever be proven but rather just be the best explanation of the evidence, it seems the Obstetric Hypothesis is clearly not the whole picture, but certainly may go some way to explain helpless babies.
Be more chimp
Regardless of the explanation for why babies are born helpless, I am not expecting my baby to grip on to my head for dear life once born. As much as it can expensive and take up a lot of space, I will instead rely on the traditional pram and car seat to get the baby around, and exchange the tree branch for a crib.
If you want to listen to me twaddle on a bit more about baby stuff, as well as cemeteries and more, then click the link below for the latest episode of Jigsaws 🧩 with Jamie, premiering at 1000 UTC.
If you have watched the video and had a go at guessing the puzzles, then my answers are below for you to compare with. If you have not watched the video yet or had a go at guessing, then stop here! Spoilers are below…
Honestly, I’m not kidding. Spoilers galore below…
Final warning, proceed further at your own risk!
Ok, don’t say you were not warned…