An Orangutan’s Diet

Food is often limited in the rainforest. Because of this, orangutans are very independent, which is unlike most primates. When there is an abundance of food, orangutans may use this time to socialize and gather in small groups.

The orangutan diet is made up primarily of bark, leaves, flowers, a variety of insects, and over 300 kinds of fruit! Mother orangutans must teach their babies what foods to eat and where to find their food. Orangutans must know a detailed map of the forest in their mind, and know what fruit is available at what times from the many different species of trees in the forest. The babies eventually learn which of the hundreds of different species of plants and trees are edible, and how to get food out of them. Many of these different trees are difficult for the orangutans to eat because they are protected by sharp spines and shells. 

While most of the food that orangutans eat is in the treetops, orangutans often have “fallback” foods that they eat when their regular diets may not be available. For example, the Tapanuli orangutan has been seen collecting and eating caterpillars. Also, while rain is frequent to fill leaves for drinking water, sometimes water can get difficult to find. In these cases, orangutans will chew leaves to make a sponge to soak up water in tree cavities that they can drink. 

Many people are familiar with studies that have shown chimpanzees using tools (such as termite sticks). Similar to that, recent studies have shown that some orangutan populations also make tools to help in the difficult task of foraging for food.

Below is a very informative video by the Smithsonian Institute on baby orangutans learning how to crack open coconuts!