Orangutan characters

John Grehan jgrehan at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG
Fri Jan 23 09:22:27 CST 2004

Apologies in advance to those list members who believe the following should
not be posted on TAXACOM.

A list member asked me about the synapomorphies and the behavioral features
I mentioned so I thought others might also be interested as the original
postings were quite some time ago. I am currently working on a web
presentation of the characters and this can be viewed (at least to see all
the characters) at:

This page also provides a link to some of the phylogenetic literature.

As for the cognitive inclinations I have seen characterizations scattered
about that emphasize what seems to be an outstanding level of mimicry
(compared to the other apes) of human activity (according to Kaplan and
Rogers 2000 this includes the ability to paddle boats and make fires!),
enhanced spatial reasoning, and behavior described as mechanical aptitude
that is sometimes manifest in their interest and ability to break out of

Amon (1977), for example, noted that orangutans become more interested in
the wrong part of tests from the scientists' point of view as they explore
the equipment instead of solving the problems designed by the
experimenters. Kaplan and Rogers (2000) make similar observations.

I hope to compile this information together in the context of human origins
at some point soon. It seems to me that orangutan behavior has a lot going
for it in what one might expect for the first humans or hominids. Its all
there at the beginning.

Amon, A. 1977. Orangutan: endangered ape. Atheneum, New York.
Kaplan, G. and L.J. Rogers. 2000. The orangutan. Perseus Publishing,
Cambridge Massachusetts.

John Grehan

Dr. John Grehan
Director of Science and Collections
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, New York 14211-1293
Voice 716-896-5200 x372
Fax 716-897-6723
jgrehan at sciencebuff.org

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