Orangutan nests

Orangutans, like all great apes, build nests. Sometimes these include pillows, blankets, and bunk beds.

Orangutan nest
Joeavison1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When it’s time to have a good night’s sleep, orangutans go up into the trees and build nests. The construction of a night nest is a complicated affair. First, the orangutan finds a likely tree. Then it weaves a bunch of big branches to build a base or platform. On top of that base, the orangutan gathers and bends smaller leafy branches together to form a softer “mattress” layer. Finally, the ape carefully intertwines branches over the top of the mattress to lock everything into place.

The whole process takes about seven or eight minutes, and orangutans make a new nest every single night. Nests have a lot of advantages: the orangutan is less likely to be attacked by predators or parasites up in the trees, you can get a nice cool breeze up there, and frankly it’s just more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. (Ask me how I know this.)

Orangutans do not build nests by instinct. Instead, they learn it from watching their parents. In fact, there is evidence of cultural variation in nest building. In other words, different groups of orangutans build nests differently – because they learned different patterns and techniques.

Some orangutans dress up their nests even more. One common variation is a cluster of leafy twigs for their heads, described in the literature as a “pillow.” Some apes pull a branch over themselves as they lay down to rest – a “blanket.” And sometimes an orangutan will make a nest with multiple levels, a “bunk bed.” So, basically, the orangutan is constructing an extra-comfy tree fort.

Gorillas and chimpanzees also build nests. Theirs are less complex and detailed than the orangutans’, and sometimes they build them on the ground. Lazy!

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