Male and female orangutans seek sex-specific knowledge from various mentors.

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According to new findings, young male and female orangutans look to separate people for sex-specific ecological information as they age.

Sometimes, studies of sexual differences focus on breeding behaviour and social organisation, but field findings show that male and female orangutans have distinct foraging and dispersal habits.

Researchers examined 15 years of evidence on dietary and social learning habits shown by 50 young orangutans living in two diverse Sumatran populations to help understand how these behaviours are learned.

Scientists shared their findings Wednesday in the journal PLOS Biology.

“In our study we showed that immature orangutans show sex specific attentional preferences when observing role models other than their mothers,” corresponding author Caroline Schuppli said in a press release.

“Our results also provide evidence that these biases result in different learning outcomes and may thus be an important way for orangutans to learn sex-specific foraging patterns,” said Schuppli, a researcher at the Max-Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany.

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Field researchers noted the frequency of “peering events” directed at other orangutans, and also tracked the amount of time young male and female orangutans spent in close proximity to others.

The data showed young females pay close attention to their mothers during their formative years, the “dependency period.” Males, on the other hand, look to other mentors.

Researchers have discovered that the diets of young females overlapped more closely with those of their mothers than those of their brothers.

When young males and females turned away from their mothers, males were more interested in transplants or immigrant orangutans, while females were more interested in neighbours.

Males are more interested in learning ecological skills and information specific to regions where they are expected to spread since they will inevitably abandon their place of birth.

Females, on the other hand, must learn local skills and expertise.

“All in all, these results highlight the importance of fine-grained social inputs during development for orangutans — the least sociable of all ape species, and thus likely also for other primates,” Schuppli said.


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