Nest-building orangutans demonstrate engineering know-how to produce safe, comfortable beds

A van Casteren, WI Sellers, Susannah Thorpe, Samuel Coward, RH Crompton, JP Myatt, AR Ennos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Citations (Scopus)


Nest-building orangutans must daily build safe and comfortable nest structures in the forest canopy and do this quickly and effectively using the branches that surround them. This study aimed to investigate the mechanical design and architecture of orangutan nests and determine the degree of technical sophistication used in their construction. We measured the whole nest compliance and the thickness of the branches used and recorded the ways in which the branches were fractured. Branch samples were also collected from the nests and subjected to three-point bending tests to determine their mechanical properties. We demonstrated that the center of the nest is more compliant than the edges; this may add extra comfort and safety to the structure. During construction orangutans use the fact that branches only break half-way across in "greenstick" fracture to weave the main nest structure. They choose thicker branches with greater rigidity and strength to build the main structure in this way. They then detach thinner branches by following greenstick fracture with a twisting action to make the lining. These results suggest that orangutans exhibit a degree of technical knowledge and choice in the construction of nests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6873-6877
Number of pages5
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2012


  • great apes
  • wood
  • biomechanics
  • intelligence


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