Can an Orangutan Really Do That?



Swallow Falls' resident orangutan, Barb, has a way with words. In fact, as Chester V's right-hand primate, she outpaces her counterpart Steve's limited vocabulary by a mile.

But you can't judge all orangutans by Barb. Real orangutans can't talk like people because their mouths and throats aren't the correct shape to make speech. If you think that means they can't communicate, think again! Captive orangutans have been taught to use picture symbols to answer questions and ask for things. In some zoos, they even enjoy using their own iPads!

Scientists classify red-haired orangutans as members of the family Hominidae, which makes them cousins to apes, chimpanzees and people. In Malay, orang means person and utan means forest. So, orangutan means person of the forest.

Orangutans are the largest arboreal - or tree-living - animals in the world, spending over 95 percent of their time up in the branches. Their arms stretch up to 8 feet from fingertip to fingertip, and males can grow to be 300 pounds. With their long arms and flexible joints, they swing through the trees, and they are much better at making yoga poses than people. They have no problem putting their legs behind their heads.

Like people, orangutans have opposable thumbs, so they can easily hold on to things. They also have opposable big toes, which allow them to hang upside-down from branches for long periods of time to gather fruit and eat young leaves.

Orangutans also make tools. They use branches to scratch themselves, hunt for insects, collect honey from trees, and snag fruit that's out of their reach. They use leaves as napkins to wipe their chins and to help handle prickly fruits. They also use leafy branches to make shelters and drape large leaves over themselves like a poncho. In captivity, one orangutan was even trained to make stone-cutting tools.

In the wild, females have babies when they are 15-16 years of age. The new baby has to hold tight to its mother's body as she swings through the forest. It will stay with its mother for as many as eight years. Scientists think that's because it takes a young orangutan a long time to learn how to survive on its own. Only human children spend a longer time with their parents!

Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

Previous story
Next story
DIY Foodimal: Mosquitoast
Manny's 10 Favorite Food Jokes

RECIPES

Check out these delicious recipes for all occasions.

Coming soon
About Patch

Patch makes it easier for neighbors to get informed and get involved. By uniting the power of people and technology, Patch brings communities closer together. As part of everyday life in over 900 communities in 23 states, Patch is the connected town square for neighbors to gather, join the conversation, and keep up with what's happening all around them, every day. Find your Patch

About Swallow Falls

Home to the characters in the Sony movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2," Swallow Falls is the town famous for stirring up some unusual weather patterns. Intrepid reporter Jules Milona shows you around the town, which has been dramatically changed since the original film. Residents have been evacuated, and an all-powerful company called The Live Corp Company has moved in! Swallows Falls Patch updates you on what's happening across the town, and gives moms and kids fun ways to dive into science experiments and delicious recipes.