A study recently conducted by scientists from the University of Manchester showed that orangutans exhibit complex engineering skills when constructing their nests.
Research leader Adam van Castern, along with colleague Julia Myatt, spent a year studying and observing orangutans in Sumatra, filming the apes as they constructed their nests in as little as five minutes.
Van Castern would climb up trees, sometimes at heights of over 30m, to measure and de-construct parts of the nests. Mechanical tests were conducted on branches that were chosen by the apes based on their structural properties. Constructing a sturdy nest is important, as it must be durable enough to house male orangutans that can weigh as much as 175 lbs.
The apes carefully choose the highest quality branches when building a nest, weaving the outside base using sturdy, thick, green branches. They then fill the inside of the nest with thin branches, giving it a springy, comfortable feel. Researcher Roland Ennos explained to BBC Nature that these findings indicate the apes have “sophisticated tool use and construction skills.” Likewise, the study concluded that “orangutans exhibit a degree of technical knowledge and choice in the construction of nests.”
Animal behavioral specialist Dr. Amanda Seed pointed out the potential “evolutionary significance” of nest-building, which has received far less interest than the animals’ use of tools. ” Professor Richard Byrne, another animal behavior specialist aptly summarized the research, noting: “…it may be the cognitive skills of nest building that really underpin the abilities that in humans – and to a much more limited extent, in chimpanzees – allow sophisticated tool manufacture.”
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