The Ontogeny of gap crossing behaviour in Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii)

Jackie Chappell, Abigail C. Phillips, Susannah K. S. Thorpe, Maria A. Van Noordwijk, Tatang Mitra Setia, Roscoe Stanyon (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
175 Downloads (Pure)


For orangutans, the largest predominantly arboreal primates, discontinuous canopy presents a particular challenge. The shortest gaps between trees lie between thin peripheral branches, which offer the least stability to large animals. The affordances of the forest canopy experienced by orangutans of different ages however, must vary substantially as adult males are an order of magnitude larger in size than infants during the early stages of locomotor independence. Orangutans have developed a diverse range of locomotor behaviour to cross gaps between trees, which vary in their physical and cognitive demands. The aims of this study were to examine the ontogeny of orangutan gap crossing behaviours and to determine which factors influence the distance orangutans crossed. A non-invasive photographic technique was used to quantify forearm length as a measure of body size. We also recorded locomotor behaviour, support use and the distance crossed between trees. Our results suggest that gap crossing varies with both physical and cognitive development. More complex locomotor behaviours, which utilized compliant trunks and lianas, were used to cross the largest gaps, but these peaked in frequency much earlier than expected, between the ages of 4 and 5 years old, which probably reflects play behaviour to perfect locomotor techniques. Smaller individuals also crossed disproportionately large gaps relative to their size, by using support deformation. Our results suggest that orangutans acquire the full repertoire of gap crossing techniques, including the more cognitively demanding ones, before weaning, but adjust the frequency of the use of these techniques to their increasing body size.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0130291
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2015


  • Orangutans
  • Biological locomotion
  • Deformation
  • Trees
  • Forearms
  • Physiological parameters
  • Forests
  • Animal behavior


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