Slow loris study reveals human rhythm of sleep may be evolutionarily conserved | 7/17/2011 | Staff
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People typically sleep seven to eight hours in one stretch and stay awake for the rest of the day. Evolutionary scientists have assumed that this rhythm of sleep arose when our early ancestors went from being nocturnal to diurnal, but a new study of the Javan slow loris indicates that the human way of sleeping is much older.

The new study shows that the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) sleeps in the same way as humans do, with most of the sleep in a long, continuous period. This suggests that this sleep rhythm is much older than we had previously believed, according to a pioneering study co-authored by Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar from the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES).

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The study was led by Doctoral student Kathleen D. Reinhardt from Oxford Brookes University and CEES.

The nine species of the genus Nycticebus, to which slow lorises belong, are small and seemingly sweet, with soft fur, round heads and large eyes. But you would rather not be bitten by a "cuddly" slow loris, because their bite is venomous! Kathleen Reinhardt had to use thick gloves to catch wild Javan slow lorises in Indonesia, where she studied the animals' special sleep rhythms. The slow loris has glands on its forearms that excrete a toxic substance when the animal licks the gland, mixing it with their saliva.


"These are the only venomous primates we know about," says Hernandez-Aguilar.

But it is neither the venom nor the big eyes that make the slow loris stars in the article recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. The attention is instead due to the fact that the slow loris is the first nocturnal primate that has had its sleep rhythm studied in the wild.

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Kathleen D. Reinhardt and her colleagues were very surprised when they discovered that the Javan slow loris sleeps...
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