Orangutans are hairy, orange apes with almost human features. Unfortunately, all three orangutan species are critically endangered, but that doesn’t stop these intelligent primates from effortlessly swinging through even the tallest treetops. This leaves us wondering just how strong orangutans are.
Able to use tools and construct impressive sleeping nests from a variety of twigs and foliage shows the remarkable skill of their nimble fingers. Their long arms don’t look particularly strong; however, these incredible creatures are rainforest powerhouses that are not to be messed with!
Why Are Orangutans So Strong?
Humans are considered the weakest of all the apes, yet orangutans are considered the second strongest (second only to gorillas). What is it that makes orangutans so unbelievably strong?
If we compare ourselves to chimpanzees, pound for pound, they are 1.5 times stronger than humans. This superhuman strength comes from how the fibres are distributed within their muscles.
It was during a 2014 study that scientists discovered that orangutans have a much higher fraction of fast fibres than humans. This is true with all primates except for humans!
The adaptations of orangutans also mean that they became stronger to survive living in their natural habitats. Orangutans are found living in rainforests and must swing easily from tree to tree to be able to avoid predators on the forest floor.
The exceptionally active lifestyle of orangutans compared to the average human lifestyle is also what makes these creatures so insanely strong.
Orangutans also have specific physical adaptations, such as a much more muscular torso and large shoulder blade bones, to improve their strength when moving through the treetops.
How Strong Is The Bite Force Of An Orangutan?
Their large, innocent face features a wide mouth that displays a threatening row of almost human-like teeth when opened. In the same way as humans, orangutans are born with a set of baby teeth which, when they lose, are replaced by a permanent set of adult teeth. The baby teeth feature 20 deciduous teeth, while their adult set includes 32 permanent adult teeth.
With so many similarities to humans, how does an orangutan’s bite force match up to ours? The average human has a bite force of between 120 – 160 psi. Orangutans have a far stronger bite force than the average adult, with a pressure of 575 psi!
That is almost five times stronger than the average human. This impressive bite is used in self-defence and for cracking open any seeds, nuts or fruits they find.
How Much Can Orangutan Lift?
The weight of a large orangutan can be up to 90 kg (200 lb). The males of the species are both huge and incredibly strong. But how much can an orangutan lift? Well, orangutans can lift up to 226 kg (500 lb), twice their body weight. This impressive skill is due to their highly developed forearm muscles.
For comparison, a chimpanzee can lift up to 113 kg (250 lb), whereas a gorilla can lift up to 449 kg (990 lb). Considering the size difference between an orangutan weighing up to 90 kg (200 lb) and a gorilla weighing up to 170 kg (375 lb) is seriously impressive!
What Is The Grip Strength Of An Orangutan?
No serious scientific studies have been conducted on the grip strength of an orangutan. However, there has been anecdotal evidence which suggests their grip strength to be at least 600 pounds.
It could be more, considering the weight of an adult male and the time an orangutan spends hanging from a tree using only one arm. These primates also demonstrate a seriously impressive grip when cracking open any potential food they find.
Are Orangutans Stronger Than Humans?
Pound for pound, orangutans are, on average, 1.5 times stronger than the average human. In multiple scientific studies, orangutans outperformed humans in pulling and jumping experiments.
The muscle composure of humans and orangutans is entirely different. The muscles of an orangutan are composed of 67% fast-twitch fibres, whereas, in humans, fast-twitch fibres make up only 40% of the muscle. This muscle composition means that orangutans (and all chimpanzees) have the ability for higher force and power but lower endurance than humans.
This is all conducted under ‘Mass Specific’ force or power outlet measures. Since humans are considerably larger than orangutans, scientists must calculate the results using calculations that account for our difference in size.
Orangutan vs Gorilla Strength Comparison
Gorillas are the strongest apes, so they are stronger than orangutans. Gorillas are twice as heavy as the average orangutan and a bit taller. Therefore, they are substantially stronger. A gorilla would definitely beat an orangutan in a game of tug-of-war.
The bite force of a gorilla is also far stronger than the bite force of not just an orangutan but also a tiger! At 1,300 psi, the gorilla’s bite force is even more impressive than an orangutan’s.
The average gorilla can lift almost 453 kg (1000 lb), which is virtually the same when compared in relevant sizes to an orangutan. Both can raise around two and a half times their body weight. However, if both animals were to meet and fight, the gorilla would always come out on top due to its size, bite force and insane amounts of strength!
Orangutan vs Chimpanzee Strength Comparison
When it comes down to basic lifting or gripping, orangutans are stronger than chimpanzees. This is due to a completely different lifestyle.
Chimpanzees have longer hind limbs due to spending a much higher percentage of their life on the floor, whereas orangutans have super strong forearms since they spend almost their whole life in the tree tops. It is very unusual for an orangutan to descend from the tree tops.
Due to their different everyday behaviours, orangutans have had to develop a much stronger lifting and gripping ability than chimpanzees. This also means the arm span of an orangutan is much greater than the arm span of a chimpanzee.
In comparison, a chimpanzee has much longer hind limbs than an orangutan. The arm span of an orangutan is 2.4 m (8 ft), with a chimpanzee’s being just 1.8 m (6 ft)!
The lifting strength of an orangutan is actually double the lifting strength of a chimpanzee, and the grip strength of an orangutan is 1.3 times stronger!
Although a chimpanzee is weaker than an orangutan, they would still be able to defend themself in a battle between the two. A chimpanzee has a bite force of 550 PSI, similar to that of an orangutan and is much more aggressive in temperament.
Orangutan Climbing Ability
The orangutan is a phenomenal climber. With arms much longer than their legs and shoulders much wider than their hips, these primates are adapted for life in the tree tops. Even when transporting things like food or nest material, they always keep both hands and both feet free to maximise their climbing abilities.
Orangutans have long fingers and toes, with the thumb and largest toe going opposite to the other fingers and toes. This allows the orangutan to grip firmly with both hands and feet when swinging from tree to tree.
Their longer fingers are designed to quickly be able to release tree branches to be able to climb at very high speeds. They have adapted to have shorter thumbs and the largest toes in order to keep them out of their way when climbing.
Orangutans have complete rotation in both hip and shoulder joints, whereas humans only have this quality in their shoulders. This maximum rotation allows them to move more freely.
Orangutans are also born with flexible knee and ankle joints to bounce more easily from branch to branch and prevent injuries when climbing and swinging.
A mother orangutan takes her baby everywhere with her through the trees, and baby orangutans must learn to grip their mother to not fall from the trees.
Orangutans are the only ape species that spend almost their whole lives in the trees.
How Strong Is A Baby Orangutan?
With one of the most extended development periods of the animal kingdom, baby orangutans don’t spend considerable time away from their mothers. There are not currently any scientific studies on baby orangutan strength, but it is known that a baby orangutan must spend almost the entire day supporting their own body weight when gripping onto their mothers.
This must mean that infant primates are pretty strong. One of the critical skills a baby orangutan must learn is climbing. The skill level at which orangutans climb is so high that the babies take ten years to fully develop physically.
How Fast Can Orangutan Run?
Spending around 12 hours a day sleeping and sometimes even napping for more, orangutans are not known for their running speed. Orangutans can pick up a fair amount of speed when climbing through the trees. They are adapted for life up high and don’t spend a lot of time running.
However, they can run up to 2.7 mph. The adaptations of their body used for climbing mean their hands and feet are capable of moving fairly quickly considering their shorter hind limbs and longer forelimbs. Despite this, the average human can run at a speed of around 8mph which is much faster than an Orangutan.
Are Orangutans Dangerous?
Unlike chimpanzees, orangutans are known for being naturally mild-mannered and are rarely a danger to humans or each other. There are occasional signs of male-on-male aggression over mates or territory, but these are usually sorted out without too much aggressive behaviour.
When their habitats are destroyed, orangutans are sometimes found wandering into villages. Villagers often kill them as they are wrongly perceived as a threat to humans. Orangutans are rarely aggressive towards humans. The only cases where wild orangutans have shown aggression towards humans were when they were raised in captivity and reintroduced to the wild later in life.
The 3 Species Of Orangutan
The heaviest species of orangutan, the Borneo orangutan, lives in Borneo. The males can weigh up to 90 kg (200 lb) and are up to 1.2 – 1.4 m (3.9 – 4.6 ft) tall. The females of this species can weigh up to 50 kg (110 lbs) and are up to 1 – 1.2 m (3.2 – 3.9 ft) tall.
The Sumatran orangutan is found only on the north Indonesian island of Sumatra. The males can weigh up to 91 kg (200 lb) and are up to 1.4 m (4.5 ft) tall. The females can weigh up to 50 kg (110 lb) and are up to 1 m (3.5 ft) tall.
The Tapanuli orangutan is restricted to south Tapanuli on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It was only described as a distinct species in 2017. The males can weigh up to 75 kg (165 lb) and are up to (5 ft) tall. The females can weigh up to 37 kg (82 lb) and are up to (3.9 ft) tall. They are the tallest species of orangutan.
Unfortunately, all three orangutan species are currently on the IUCN’s Red List and classified as critically endangered. One of the biggest threats is the conversion of rainforests to palm oil plantations.
They are also threatened by bushmeat hunters, the illegal pet trade and even the illegal souvenir trade. Luckily, many organisations attempt to rescue, rehabilitate and repopulate orangutans in the wild.