HUMOUR

Oflice and men. And gigantic mountain gorillas.

SCOTT FESCHUK March 26 2007
HUMOUR

Oflice and men. And gigantic mountain gorillas.

SCOTT FESCHUK March 26 2007

Office and men. And gigantic mountain gorillas.

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SCOTT FESCHUK

There we’re not history. are proud The so Crusades. many of in human things Our

scientists have discovered

tjlat Jiumans caught pubic

lice, a.k.a. “the crabs,” roughly three million years ago. From gorillas. Alas, modern man is left to face the harsh realization that whatever happened in the prehistoric equivalent of Las Vegas did not stay in the prehistoric equivalent of Las Vegas.

This revelation is quite a blow. I mean, I know it was three million years ago. I know things were a little different back then and there weren’t as many outlets for one’s cavemanly urges. They probably didn’t have Spectravision, or even Katie Couric reading the news, but... What? Why are you cringing? Don’t tell me I’m the only guy who... oh.

Anyway, a hominid gets lonely, right? But... gorillas? On the other hand, the rules are pretty clear: you put your hand into the bowl; you pull out a set of car keys (or, in this case, their prehistoric equivalent: a rock that somewhat resembles a fellow partygoer’s head); and then, boom, it’s time to take the mammoth skin off and get your freak on. No questions asked, even if one of you happens to be from a species that’s within a few hundred thousand years of forging a rudimentary language. So points to our hirsute forebears for placing honour above good sense. And sound judgment. And their ability to walk for the following four to six weeks.

These findings on pubic lice, published at the University of Florida, are obviously part of a study of long-ago behaviour. No human today would ever make it with a gorilla except in the event of extreme drunkenness or reality television. But the revelation nevertheless has modern implications. For instance, now I’m not sure of the proper etiquette for my next zoo visit. Do I bring flowers? The family photo album? I mean, in some ways it’s all starting to make sense: when the camera catches my Uncle Robert from just the right angle, you can see the resemblance.

(Here’s an interesting fact: humans are unique among primates in that we have the ability to simultaneously host two different kinds of lice—one on our head and body, the other on our crotch. Other primates can host only one or the other. Take that, chimpanzees! Yet another example of mankind taking you to school on the evolution front.)

Now you might be wondering to yourself: who, other than a nosy reporter for Prehistoric People magazine, would be interested in who slept with what three million years ago? But researchers say understanding the history of

lice is important because they and other parasites yield valuable hints about the lifestyles of human ancestors and the evolution of modern humans. So you can just imagine that three million years from now some researcher is going to make a whole career out of studying Paris Hilton.

But engaging in this kind of science isn’t as easy as it might seem. One of the academics who led the current project said, “The hardest part was collecting the gorilla lice, and without the help of our colleagues Chris Whittier and Michael Cranfield at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, we wouldn’t have been able to do this project at all.” Apparently they were the ones who went out and bought the scented candles and Barry White CD.

I suppose we should be grateful for their efforts. With this knowledge of our genetic past, the success of the Jackass movies suddenly becomes far less baffling. Moreover, this research has solved another mystery—the origin of that expression about getting an 800pound gorilla off your back. Apparently, it was first uttered three million years ago by a human who was screaming, “Get this 800pound gorilla off my back! ’’—followed shortly thereafter by: “Hey, what itches?”

It should be noted that the scientists who conducted this detailed study of pubic lice a) don’t get invited to many parties, and b) did take pains to mention that the lice may not have been spread through actual sexy-time intercourse. They say humans may have instead contracted the crabs by simply sharing the same “sleeping nest” as infected gorillas.

Is that supposed to make us feel better? That our prehistoric selves may have spooned with gorillas but failed to get to third base?

I’m sorry, but any ancestor of Charlie Sheen would have sealed the deal. Put your hands on me, you damn dirty ape.

Postscript: Another new study suggests that chimpanzees and humans split from a common ancestor just four million years ago, which is much more recently than current estimates of five to seven million years ago. The study also claims the common ancestor’s name was Wayne, and he just got tired of the whole quadruped thing.

Even those who accept this conclusion allow that the figure of four million years is by no means precise. A certain amount of wiggle room must be allowed. For instance, researchers recently discovered that the DNA of Matt LeBlanc diverged from chimps last Wednesday. M

ON THE WEB: For Scott Feschuk’s take on the news of the day, visit his audioblog www.macleans.ca/feschuk