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How Baby Orangutans Become Master Treehouse Architects

How Baby Orangutans Become Master Treehouse Architects

It takes most orangutans seven years to learn to make their own beds.

An orangutan and her daughter in their daytime nest.

Orangutans are known for an impressive feat of engineering: daily they carefully weave an intricate nest out of leafy branches and twigs in the forest canopy, building and rebuilding it for cozy nights and shady midday naps. Some nests, particularly those made by older, more experienced orangutans, feature pillows, liners, blankets, and sometimes even a roof made of broad leaves, and all should be well protected from the elements and strong enough to withstand more of 100 pounds of sleeping eggs. bun.

Now a study published in Animal behavior reveals that young orangutans perfect this vital task over seven years. “The fact that it takes them so long to acquire this skill shows us that it is much more complex than we thought before,” says the study’s lead author, Andrea Permana, a primatologist at the University of Warwick in England.

To understand this behavior, researchers followed 45 orangutans in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park for 13 years. “It was great to see more attention being paid to material culture and tool-using behavior that isn’t the typical ‘sticks and stones,’ like the caveman tools we normally focus on,” says primatologist Hella. Péter, from the University of Kent, who was not involved in the study.

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Permana discovered that orangutans begin to show interest in nest building as early as six months. These still-dependent orangutans practice the task daily throughout their youth, watching their mother to learn construction techniques. As they grow, their strength and dexterity improve, allowing them to manipulate twigs and branches more successfully into the structure. Researchers have seen orangutans build their first functional night nests at three years of age, but they still tend to sleep next to their mothers until about seven years old.

Orangutans “have this dependency period of seven to nine years where they are little babies and then they are left alone,” Péter says.

These nests offer more than just protection from tigers and other predators; Sleep itself is also a crucial resource. All great apes build nests to some degree, and studies show that orangutans sleep deeper and longer than non-nest-building primates. This deep sleep can tell us how nests played a role in the brain evolution of our own ancestors because human ancestors and orangutans developed nest building simultaneously, says Permana: “The more rested you are, the more innovative you can be. . You may be more curious, your memory is better, and you can solve problems better. “The knock-on effects this will have on the success of our ancestors is quite undoubted.”



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