Making the “Bed”

Every morning humans across the world wake up, get up and make their bed. For orangutans, the perfect time to make their bed is when it’s time for sleep and relaxation.

All orangutans make beds, formally called nests. A new nest is constructed every day, and they often make several nests a day. The process of building a nest involves personal preference, and the orangutan can make its nest large or small, elaborate or simple, wherever they desire and with any materials they want.

Nests can range in size. The smaller ones are about three feet in diameter and larger ones can be about five feet in diameter. Nest size can depend on the orangutan making it; larger males may make nests suited to their size, while females and smaller males may make smaller nests. Pregnant or mother orangutans may also build larger nests to make them and their offspring more comfortable.

In the wild, nests are often built high in the trees. This provides safety and comfort from any ground predators or parasites as the orangutans sleep overnight. For orangutans under human care, nests can still be found in the highest spots in their exhibits, but can also be found on the ground. The Virginia Zoo’s four orangutans will nest on platforms and in hammocks high off the ground, but mostly prefer to nest on the ground.

Branches make an excellent nest-making material and orangutans often pile leaves in the nest as an added layer of bedding. Pepper, Schnitz, Solaris and expecting mom Dara all prefer using hay to build their nests, and will also use blankets, wheelbarrows, hammocks and tubs. There is no specific nest-making process, but the orangutans typically start by weaving their materials together.

Dara, the Zoo’s pregnant orangutan, already builds nests every day, but Zoo Keepers are preparing to give her additional materials as she gets closer to giving birth. Keepers will supply larger quantities of straw to provide extra bedding, which will allow her to make nests or arrange the den how she wants before birth. The bedding will also allow for a safe delivery by providing extra cushion and warmth for a newborn.

Dara is expected to give birth between late June and early July, and we will continue to post updates every week on her pregnancy on our website. Check back next week to see what Dara will be up to then!