Orangutans are smart designers: Study

April 18th, 2012 - 6:11 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 18 (IANS) Orangutans are turning out to be smart designers, going by the sophisticated way they build their nests, says a scientific study.

University of Manchester scientists spent a year observing and filming orangutans at a research facility in Indonesia and they found the great apes apparently possessed the complex knowledge of mechanical design and material properties.

The extant primates, one of man’s closest kins, only live wild in Sumatra and Borneo. They build large and oval nests in tree canopies daily where they sleep overnight, possibly for protection from predators and parasites or for warmth during sleep, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported.

Until now, little was known about their nests’ mechanical design and material properties but the researchers, led by Manchester’s Roland Ennos and doctoral student Adam van Casteren, reported that the apes used particular branches for different parts of the nest, according to a Manchester statement.

“We found that the orangutans chose strong, rigid tree branches for the structural parts of the nests that supported their weight, and weaker, more flexible branches for the nest’s linings, suggesting that the apes’ choice of branch for different parts of the nests was dictated by the branches’ diametre and rigidity,” said Ennos of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

“We observed orangutans building safe comfortable nests by half-breaking and weaving thick branches and twisting smaller branches right off to make a sort of mattress. They seem to have learnt about the mechanical properties of wood, and use this knowledge in a clever way.

“Our research has implications for the evolution of intelligence and cognition as well as evolution of the knowledge of tool use in early humans,” concluded Ennos.

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