Orangutans are large, gentle-looking animals. Have you ever wondered about the nutrition they need to survive and thrive? Because they share over 96 percent of their DNA with humans, they have similar needs in terms of food. So, what do orangutans eat and drink? What is their favorite food, and what are some of their eating habits? Do baby orangutans have the same diet as adults? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore the answers to all of these questions.
What You'll Learn Today
What Do Orangutans Eat and Drink?
Orangutans are technically omnivores, though they eat primarily plant-based foods. Let’s take a closer look at the many different kinds of food they will eat.
- Fruits and berries: Fruits and berries make up the majority of the orangutan’s diet. These foods grow abundantly in the rainforests orangutans call home, and they are high in carbohydrates and nutrients.
- Leaves and bark: When fruit is less plentiful, orangutans will eat the leaves of up to 25 different kinds of trees. They will slide their teeth along stems and twigs to scrape the leaves off.
Though they don’t technically eat the bark of these trees, they sometimes peel off pieces and chew on them to absorb the nutrients. In other words, tree bark is a chewing gum of sorts for orangutans.
- Flowers and grasses: Sometimes orangutans eat other plants as well, including a variety of different flowers and grasses. They are even able to eat many plants that would be toxic to other animals.
- Honey: Orangutans enjoy eating honey and will frequently raid honey bee hives in search of the delicious food.
- Nuts: Orangutans sometimes eat nuts and seeds because they are rich sources of protein and other nutrients.
- Mushrooms: Occasionally, orangutans will also eat mushrooms, which contain a diverse variety of vitamins and nutrients.
- Insects: When plant-based foods are more scarce, orangutans often turn to insects to provide the nutrition they need. Insects are rich in protein and are an abundant “survival food” during times of food shortage.
- Small animals: Rarely, orangutans will eat small animals including birds, lizards, and rats. Again, this is usually when they can’t find other, more preferred food sources.
- Eggs: Sometimes orangutans will also eat bird eggs, which provide a good source of protein and serve as another good survival food.
- Vegetables: Orangutans kept in captivity are often fed vegetables such as carrots, green beans, and broccoli. Though they don’t have access to these foods in the wild, they eat them without complaint when given the opportunity.
As you can see, orangutans will eat a wide variety of foods. They don’t usually drink a whole lot of water because most of their needs are met by the fruit they eat.
That said, orangutans do sometimes increase their water intake by drinking from lakes, ponds, streams, and puddles. They may also drink rainwater collected in leaves and tree holes.
What is an Orangutan’s Favorite Food?
Orangutans love to eat all kinds of fruit. In fact, fruit makes up about 90 percent of their diet, and they are sometimes called “frugivores” for this reason.
Some of the fruits found growing abundantly in their natural habitat include durian, ficus, mahang, neesia, and wild mangoes. They will eat whatever types of fruit they can get in the wild but those kept in captivity also enjoy many other types of fruit that may not be available to them otherwise.
Of all the fruits, though, durian is considered to be one of their favorites.
Durian is a large, tropical fruit covered in hard spikes, but the flesh inside is soft and spongy. It has a unique flavor that has been described as cheesy, creamy, and garlicky.
Durian grows abundantly in the rainforests of southeast Asia, where orangutans live, so it is easy for them to find. It is also tasty and nutritious for them.
Check out this video to learn more about durian and watch a hungry orangutan at the Indianapolis Zoo ask for pieces of the fruit.
Orangutan Feeding Habits
Orangutans spend six to eight hours a day foraging for food. They regularly eat around 400 different species of plant, though as mentioned above, they will also eat mushrooms, insects, and small animals if plants aren’t available.
Orangutans swing themselves from tree branch to tree branch searching for good food sources. They are smart creatures, and they have the ability to memorize the best food sources and return to them again and again.
Sometimes they will climb down to the ground and travel farther in search of food. This is especially true if fruit is scarce, and they may have to travel some distance on foot to find other available food sources on the ground.
They are also able to use tools to access their food. For example, they frequently use sticks to open fruit and retrieve honey from inside beehives, and they will use leaves to pad their hands when picking and carrying the spiky durian fruit.
What Do Baby Orangutans Eat?
Baby orangutans mostly drink milk from their mothers. Surprisingly, they will nurse for up to eight years or until their mother becomes pregnant again.
Throughout their juvenile years, baby orangutans must learn which foods to eat and which ones to avoid. This knowledge is not instinctive; what they learn must be taught and remembered, and in turn, this knowledge is eventually passed on to the next generation.
Mother orangutans gradually begin weaning their young as they begin to eat more and more “adult foods.”
Orangutans eat many different foods, including fruits, nuts, leaves, insects, honey, and occasionally small animals. Their favorite food is a large tropical fruit known as durian. Baby orangutans drink milk from their mothers until they are old enough to learn which foods to eat and which ones to avoid.