Orangutans plan their future route and communicate it to others, researchers show

Sep 11, 2013
This is a male orangutan. Credit: UZZ

Male orangutans plan their travel route up to one day in advance and communicate it to other members of their species. In order to attract females and repel male rivals, they call in the direction in which they are going to travel. Anthropologists at the University of Zurich have found that not only captive, but also wild-living orangutans make use of their planning ability.

For a long time it was thought that only humans had the ability to anticipate future actions, whereas animals are caught in the here and now. But in recent years, clever experiments with great apes in zoos have shown that they do remember past events and can plan for their future needs. Anthropologists at the University of Zurich have now investigated whether wild apes also have this skill, following them for several years through the dense tropical swamplands of Sumatra.

Orangutans communicate their plans

Orangutans generally journey through the forest alone, but they also maintain . Adult males sometimes emit loud 'long calls' to attract females and repel rivals. Their cheek pads act as a funnel for amplifying the sound in the same way as a megaphone. Females that only hear a faint call come closer in order not to lose contact. Non- on the other hand hurry in the opposite direction if they hear the call coming loud and clear in their direction.

This image shows examples of the daily travel routes of the orangutans observed. The green arrows show spontaneous long calls, while the red arrows mark response calls to the noises emitted by other males. Credit: UZH

"To optimize the effect of these calls, it thus would make sense for the male to call in the direction of his future whereabouts, if he already knew about them", explains Carel van Schaik. "We then actually observed that the males traveled for several hours in approximately the same direction as they had called." In extreme cases, long calls made around nesting time in the evening predicted the travel direction better than random until the evening of the next day. Carel van Schaik and his team conclude that orangutans plan their route up to a day ahead. In addition, the males often announced changes in travel direction with a new, better-fitting long call. The researchers also found that in the morning, the other orangutans reacted correctly to the long call of the previous evening, even if no new long call was emitted. "Our study makes it clear that wild do not simply live in the here and now, but can imagine a future and even announce their plans. In this sense, then, they have become a bit more like us", concludes Carel van Schaik.

Explore further: Sexual selection isn't the last word on bird plumage, study shows

More information: Carel P. van Schaik, Laura Damerius, Karin Isler. Wild Orangutan Males Plan and Communicate Their Travel Direction One Day in Advance. PLOS ONE. September 11, 2013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074896

Related Stories

Decoding the long calls of the orangutan

Mar 09, 2010

Research into the long calls of male Orangutans in Borneo has given scientists new insight into how these solitary apes communicate through dense jungle. An acoustic analysis of the calls, published today ...

Borneo's orangutans are coming down from the trees

Jul 29, 2013

Orangutans might be the king of the swingers, but primatologists in Borneo have found that the great apes spend a surprising amount of time walking on the ground. The research, published in the American Jo ...

Female frogs prefer males who can multitask

Aug 16, 2013

From frogs to humans, selecting a mate is complicated. Females of many species judge suitors based on many indicators of health or parenting potential. But it can be difficult for males to produce multiple ...

Peacock love songs lure eavesdropping females from afar

Dec 20, 2012

Deep in the scrublands of Keoladeo National Park in northwest India, one thing was hard for biologist Jessica Yorzinski to ignore: It wasn't the heat. It wasn't the jackals. It was the squawks of peacocks ...

Great apes, small numbers

Oct 16, 2012

Sumatran orangutans have undergone a substantial recent population decline, according to a new genetic study, but the same research revealed the existence of critical corridors for dispersal migrations that, ...

Recommended for you

Fruit flies crucial to basic research

17 minutes ago

The world around us is full of amazing creatures. My favorite is an animal the size of a pinhead, that can fly and land on the ceiling, that stages an elaborate (if not beautiful) courtship ritual, that can ...

Crete's mystery croc killed by cold snap

17 minutes ago

A man-eating crocodile that became an attraction on the Greek island of Crete last year after its mysterious appearance in a lake has died, probably of cold, an official said Monday.

Hunting for living fossils in Indonesian waters

47 minutes ago

The Coelacanth (Latimeria menadoensis) was thought to be extinct for more than 60 million years and took the science world by storm in 1938 when it was re-discovered living in South Africa. This fish has ...

An elephant never forgets the way to the watering hole

2 hours ago

A study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B tracked the movement of elephants across the African savannah. The elephants chose the shortest distances towards watering holes, pin-pointing the lo ...

A peek at the secret life of pandas

Mar 27, 2015

Reclusive giant pandas fascinate the world, yet precious little is known about how they spend their time in the Chinese bamboo forests. Until now.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lorentz Descartes
1 / 5 (6) Sep 12, 2013
It's so sad that my phone understands everything I say but we can't decipher even one simple animal language fully. However a researcher studied prairie dogs for 25 years and painstakingly decoded their calls, really interesting:

http://www.treehu...fat.html

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.