ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Orangutans Have Culture

A study shows that different populations of the Southeast Asian ape display and transmit specific behaviors through generations in a way similar to human cultures.

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

WIKIMEDIA, ZYANCE

Populations of orangutans living in different jungle habitats develop and transmit distinct behaviors in a manner akin to human cultural transmission, according to a new Current Biology study that considered the effects of geography, genetics, and environment on the behavioral differences. Researchers have previously shown that populations of the red apes living in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra perform certain behaviors—such as kissing into a clenched fist like a trumpet or using a branch as a fly swatter—in different ways. But it has been unclear whether the variation among populations was due to social learning, indicating culture, as opposed to variation in the environment or genetics. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich have shown, using thousands of hours of behavioral observation data combined with genetic profiling and scores of environmental and ecological measurements, that cultural transmission must be at play in the patchwork of behavioral differences...

Previous research has demonstrated a similar phenomenon in wild populations of chimpanzees. Together, the results suggest that the tendency to develop and share particular behaviors in a group of apes may have roots in evolutionary ancestors shared with humans. "The cultural interpretation of the behavioral diversity also holds for orangutans—and in exactly the same way as we would expect for human culture," Michael Krützen, who was first author on the study, told Wired.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?
ADVERTISEMENT