Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape, 2005


The characteristics that the earlier anthropologists studied in these tribes may well be the very features that have interfered with the progress of the groups concerned. Any society that has fail to advance has in some way failed. It is dangerous to use this information as the basis for any general scheme of our behaviour as a species (simple tribal groups are not nearer the heart of the matter than the members of advanced civilisation).

The ape phase – 35M to 15M years ago – they had become specialised in forest existence. 15M years ago, forest stronghold had become seriously reduced in size, the naked ape left the forest and threw themselves into competition with the already efficiently adapted ground dwellers.

The naked ape is an vegetarian primate turned carnivore. (The panda is a carnivore turned vegetarian).

Carnivore have developed powerful inhibitions about using their weapons on other members of their own species. These inhibitions appear to have a specific genetic basis: they do not have to be learned.

Food sharing is known to be practiced in a number of species.

Carnivore have developed a good sens of smell, primate have evolved good color visions. Their eyes are better at picking out static details, as their food is static. Hearing is important but less than for the tracking killers (external ears are smaller and lack twisting mobility). More developed taste and strong positive response to sweet testing objects.

The act of returning to a home base is typical of carnivores, but far less common amongst monkeys and apes. A group of primates has a clearly defined home range but it will bed down wherever it happens to have ended up on a given day.

Carnivores have fleas, primates do not. They are plagued by lice. A flea lay its eggs not on the body of its host but amongst the detritus of its victim’s sleeping quarters. As nomadic mammals, primates are free of fleas.

Monkeys are born with brain 70% of its adult size. Our own species has at birth a brain which is only 23% of its adult size. Rapid growth continues for 6 months after birth, and the whole brain growing process is not complete before 23 years of life.

The advanced carnivore separates the actions of food seeking and the actions of eating. The act of feeding is too remote (preparing it) so the action of killing has to become a reward in itself.

The hunting ape was unique amongst primates in having a fixed base: this is demonstrated by our own special kind of flea, one that has evolved with us.

Socially the hunting ape had to increase his urge to communicate and cooperate with his fellow: facial expression and vocalizations had to become more complicated.

For a virile primate male to go off on a feeding trip and leave his females unprotected from the advances of any other males was unheard of. This demanded a major shift in social behaviour: the answer was the development of pair-bonding. I have suggested that there were basic biological changes rather than mere cultural changes.

Naked ape: the use of the same sleeping places night after night is thought to have provided abnormally rich breeding-grounds for a variety of ticks, mites, fleas…by casting off his hairy coat, the den-dweller was better able to cope with the problem. This can not have been the main reason! The development of fire has led to the loss of hairy coat.

It is suggested that our ancestor was aquatic, possibly confirmed as we are the only primate with a sub layer of cutaneous fat (insulating device) and we are the only primate at ease in water.  The theory lacks solid evidence. Another argument was that the loss of hair was a social trend – a signal, a special recognition mark. It can also be seen as an extension of sexual signalling. The loss of hair – and body insulation- explaining in part the subcutaneous fat. Hairless condition came evolved as a cooling device, to avoid being over heated while venturing out of the forest. Not equipped to make lightning dashes he had to become better at long endurance pursuits. The chase was so important to him that there would have been strong selective pressure to reduce overheating : this was the key factor. This would work in a environment not too hot – to avoid damage to the skin. The subcutaneous fat layer indicates that there was a need to keep the body warm at other times.

Prolonged childhood allows the development of deep personal relationship (much more than in monkeys). The loss of parental bond with maturation and independence creates a relationship void: a new equally powerful bond can be found to replace it.

Copulation in our species is not about producing offspring but about cementing the pair bonding.

Our vertical posture means that it is impossible for a naked ape to approach another member of his species without performing genital display. Other primates, advancing on all fours, do not have this problem. It follows that covering of the genital region with some kind of garment must have been an early cultural development.

It looks like for our species breast design is primarily sexual rather than a maternal function.

The vast majority of women carry their baby on the left side (right handed and left handed mother): the heart is on the left side. Heart beat of the mother is important for the child – imprinting while in utero. It may explain why we insist on locating feelings of love in the heart rather than in the head.

Monkeys and apes are perhaps the most opportunist. As a group they have specialised in non specialisation. All young monkeys are inquisitive but their curiosity tends to fade as they become adult. With us the inquisitiveness stretched out into the mature years. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species.

We have neophilic and neophobic urges: the former drives us on to new experiences, the latter hold us back and makes us take refuge in the familiar (but the familiar is what has been explored again and again). We are constantly between those conflicting attractions of the exciting new stimulus and the friendly old one.

Aggressive hair erection has led to the growth of specialise region (crest, manes…). Aggressive sweating has become another source of scent signal.

White skin color, combined with other actions that signal fear, is a panic signal. The reddening is less worrying : the “go system” is already being undermined. The red face opponent is far less likely to attack than the white faced opponent.

Religion has been so successful…is simply a measure of the strength of our fundamental biological tendency, inherited directly from our monkey and ape ancestors, to submit ourselves to an all powerful dominant member of the group. Because of this religion has proved immensely valuable as a device for aiding social cohesion.

Our behaviour is designed to operate in small tribal groups probably numbering well under a hundred individuals – where everybody knows everybody else.  Take the phone books of a hundred widely different types of city dwellers and you will find they know well about the same number of individuals. Even our sociological encounters we are obeying the basic biological rules of our ancient ancestors.

Like other primates we find it hard to resist sweets: it’s nutritive and palatable. Preference for sweet and fruity odours falls off dramatically at puberty in favour of flowery, oily and musky odours.

Cleaning/grooming is better done by other – notably on the head, the back and arms. Social grooming is born out of this. It is the development of mutual-aid system.

The behaviour pattern of talking evolved originally out of the increased need for cooperative exchange of information.