Oral tool use by captive orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)

Robert C. O'Malley*, W. C. McGrew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Eight captive orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) were given wooden blocks embedded with raisins and bamboo as raw material for tool making in a study of manual laterally. In about three quarters of the raisin extraction bouts, the orangutans held the tool in the lips or teeth rather than in their hands. Three adult males and 2 adult females showed extreme (≥92%) preference for oral tool use, a subadult male and an adult female used oral tools about half the time, and 1 adult female preferred manual tool use. Most oral tool users made short tools (approx. 4-10 cm long) that were held in the lips and (probably) supported by the tongue. Preference for oral tool use does not correlate with body weight, age or sex, but it may be related to hand size or individual preference. This is the first report of customary oral tool use as the norm in captive orangutans; it resembles the behavioral patterns reported by van Schaik et al. and Fox et al. in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-341
Number of pages8
JournalFolia Primatologica
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Extractive foraging
  • Material culture
  • Object manipulation
  • Orangutan
  • Pongo pygmaeus
  • Tool modification
  • Tool use


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