A Pliocene love that dare not speak its name?
April 18, 2007 8:19 PM   Subscribe

How Do You Get Crabs From A Gorilla? One of many little evolutionary cases Carl Zimmer tackles in The Parasite Files.
posted by homunculus (28 comments total)
A more recent piece by Zimmer, on primates rather than parasites: Meet the Monkey Cousins.
posted by homunculus at 8:21 PM on April 18, 2007

How Do You Get Crabs From A Gorilla?

Ask politely. And it doesn't hurt to bring a gift bag of bananas.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:30 PM on April 18, 2007

*scratches headgroin*
posted by brain_drain at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2007

They must have been conducting a little "research" with Jane Goodall.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:46 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

And then, about three and a half million years ago, our hominid ancestors (perhaps Lucy?) picked up pubic lice from the ancestors of gorillas.

She's really got some 'splainin to do!
posted by rob511 at 9:01 PM on April 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Anybody else feel itchy?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2007

Scratch'n'Sniff inbox spam? That'll be the day.
posted by phaedon at 9:06 PM on April 18, 2007

The more appropriate question: How do you NOT get crabs from a gorilla?
posted by isopraxis at 9:07 PM on April 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

You don't get crabs from a gorilla. You get crabs from a fishmonger!
posted by Opposite George at 9:45 PM on April 18, 2007

I'd rather go the fishmonger's wife, but hey, each to their own.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:12 PM on April 18, 2007

Great bit of science writing there. The main idea is that the common ancestors of humans/chimps and gorillas had a genetic split in their body lice, where a head lice strand and pubic lice strand emerged. When gorillas split from chimps/humans, the gorilla ancestors lost their head lice and the human/chimp ancestors lost their public lice. Much later, after humans and chimps had split, humans picked up the pubic lice back from gorillas (not necessarily via intercourse.)

(Also, another recent study argues that chimps, who probably gave us HIV, also gave Gorillas a type of of that virus. Damn chimps, those pesky cousins of ours!)
posted by Firas at 10:13 PM on April 18, 2007

Also, check out this incredibly insightful comment on the post!:
since black people basically have the same hair covering their entire bodies (which resemble pubic hair) is it possible for them to have pubic lice as well as head lice living together throughout their bodies? like ebony and ivory living together in harmony...
People still don't get how little genetic variation there is between human ethnicities; doubt there's enough to provide different sorts of hosts for something like lice!
posted by Firas at 10:22 PM on April 18, 2007

monkey pee, monkey poo
posted by rob511 at 10:48 PM on April 18, 2007

People still don't get how little genetic variation there is between human ethnicities; doubt there's enough to provide different sorts of hosts for something like lice!

Frias: The poster isn't talking lice on black people and lice on white people, but rather head lice and public lice, which are completely different in modern humans. He's saying that it's possible that with hair covering our bodies, pubic lice and head lice may have occupied the same area.
posted by delmoi at 11:18 PM on April 18, 2007

Right. My point remains: if pubic lice 'jumped' to humans because head lice weren't competing for the 'pubic hair' niche, then the difference between skin hair coverage between 'blacks' and others aren't enough to change the evolutionary patterns. But we seem to be talking past each other, especially given that the commentor followed up with "i only posted that comment to get a rise out of my shipmates, no harm intended"—he was apparently just trolling about the type of hair black men have.

I don't get this comment from the lead author by the way—after saying that the pubic lice could have gone from human ancestors to gorilla ancestors rather than vice versa, he responds to another hypothesis with: "Two extinctions is more parsimonious, but isn't supported by the data (branch lengths don't fit under that scenario)."

Two extinctions of what? I thought he was already claiming dual extinction (Gorilla ancestors lost head lice; human/chimp ancestors lost pubic lice.)
posted by Firas at 11:47 PM on April 18, 2007

The oceans of hairlessness struck me as ridiculous but that is because I am hirsute (or as I like to say hairsuit). I'd have to assume that the reason there is distinct populations isn't due to a lack of geographical contiguity of islands of hair but rather due to changes in density and hair type even though the hair coverage may be close to continuous.

I wonder if scalp lice prefer the top of the head to the sides which are actually different types of hair (thus male pattern baldness).
posted by srboisvert at 3:23 AM on April 19, 2007

srboisvert, hirsuite skin is nothing like the sort of hair one finds on one's head, underarms, crotch—are you really going to tell me your forearm can be as hospitable to a parasite as your head?

The 'pubic' lice is isn't limited to being pubic in gorillas.
posted by Firas at 3:45 AM on April 19, 2007

That's not to say that I'm making a strong claim either way; I actually haven't the foggiest idea. There's gotta be a reason the two types of lice evolved into seperate lineages, so there's definitely specialization going on.
posted by Firas at 3:48 AM on April 19, 2007

It is due to the distancing of pubic hairs vs head hairs. Crab lice are more adapt at jumping the further distance present on pubic hairs, it has nothing to do with coarseness of hairs.
posted by geoff. at 6:29 AM on April 19, 2007

Koko, you're only hurting us, baby.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:16 AM on April 19, 2007

In Soviet Russia, crabs get YOU!
posted by schleppo at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2007

Yeah, but man that Zira is good lookin’
posted by Smedleyman at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2007

A good read and a nice post.

But here's what I thought of first. When I saw "How do you get crabs from a gorilla?":

"Hey dog, we gonna go to the club and pick up some girls, you wanna roll?"

"Nah, dog, I'ma stay home, and chill with my monkey. You know how long it took me to train this monkey to suck my dick...without peeling it? Last night Chimchim jerked me off with his feet. Only a monkey can show you that kind of love and tenderness. So yall can keep fucking these people if you want, ITS MORE MONKEY PUSSY FOR ME!"

-Dave Chappelle

posted by kosem at 3:46 PM on April 19, 2007

I gotta think a gorilla with any kinda crabs attached has to be a very irritated gorilla.

So how do you get crabs from a gorilla? You hire someone else to get the crabs, cuz life's too short.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:18 PM on April 19, 2007

In other evolution news: We may have inherited our brain from an ancient worm
posted by homunculus at 4:21 PM on April 21, 2007

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