Orangutans and chimpanzees are two great ape species. They both share a great deal of their DNA (over 95%) with us humans. However, the similarities seem to end here. Not only do they live in different geographical areas, but they have different habitats, personalities, and social behavior.
Orangutans are primarily arboreal mammals living in Southeast Asia. Chimpanzees’ habitat spans from Central to Western Africa, and these apes are mostly terrestrial. Orangutans are usually solitary, whereas chimps live in groups of up to 20 individuals. While orangutans are larger and stronger than chimps, they are usually gentle creatures. Chimpanzees are more aggressive and often engage in fights.
There are many more differences between orangutans vs. chimpanzees. The table below shows a quick overview of the two species:
|Standing height||3.3 to 5 feet||3 to 5.5 feet|
|Weight||73 – 180 pounds||70 – 130 pounds|
|Bite force||575 PSI||400 PSI|
|Lifting force||500 pounds||250 pounds|
|Habitat||Southeast Asia; arboreal||Central & Western Africa; mostly terrestrial|
|Behavior||Solitary; gentle||Highly social; aggressive|
|Reproduction||8-year breeding interval||2.5 to 5.5-year breeding interval|
|Average gestation period||259 days||230 days|
|Life expectancy (in the wild)||35 – 45 years||30 – 40 years|
|Conservation status||Critically endangered||Endangered|
Orangutan vs. Chimpanzee: Similarities And Differences
Orangutans and chimpanzees are two great ape species in the Hominidae family. However, sharing a family and part of the genome doesn’t make the two alike. There are important differences between these apes, from strength to behavior and habitat.
1. Height & Size
There aren’t important height differences between orangutans and chimps; however, orangutans generally tend to grow larger and are often heavier.
As far as height is concerned, most adult orangutans have a height between 4.1 and 5 feet. Females are smaller than males, standing at an average height of about 3.3 feet.
Chimp males can grow up to 5.5 feet tall, but the truth is that most adult males only reach a height of about four feet. Female chimps, however, tend to grow slightly taller than orangutan females at 3.5 feet.
An important similarity between the two is the arm span. Both species have long arms, orangutans due to the arboreal habitat, chimps due to the “knuckle-walking” locomotion – they actually use all four limbs for moving, even if they seem to be standing on their hind limbs.
Both orangutans and chimpanzees can have an arm span reaching between seven and eight feet, depending on height.
While the height differences between chimps and orangutans are minimal, orangutans are generally heavier.
Male orangutans have an average weight of about 150-180 pounds. However, larger orangutans can weigh more than this, with some of the heaviest males reaching hefts up to 300 pounds.
Chimps are comparatively smaller. Their average weight is about 100-130 pounds; they can grow larger in captivity, but a healthy adult male’s weight still won’t exceed 200 pounds. This makes orangutans at least 100 pounds heavier (and a lot stronger) than chimps.
3. Bite Force
Talking about strength, one of the most commonly compared characteristics – when talking about wildlife, in general – is the bite force.
As primates, humans have a lousy bite of about 162 pounds per square inch (PSI). However, our cousins, the great apes, can muster much more than this.
Between orangutans and chimps, the former has the strongest bite – about 575 PSI (2,560 Newton). Chimps may have a weaker bite of about 1,780 Newton (around 400 PSI), but their bite is still pretty strong compared to other animals.
For instance, their bite force is stronger than that of some crocodiles.
We should say that none of these two apes can match the bite force of gorillas, which is about 1,300 PSI.
4. Lifting Force
If 175 PSI of bite force difference doesn’t seem as much, the lifting force also confirms the orangutans’ strength compared to chimps.
Why orangutans can lift heavier loads is easily explained by their lifestyle.
These red-coat apes are tree-dwelling animals. They rarely descend from the trees, and their preferred way of locomotion is swaying or jumping from tree to tree.
As explained, orangutans can get pretty heavy. Since they have to use their arms to move vertically and overground, they develop strong muscles. Generally, an orangutan can lift up to 500 pounds, which is often more than double their own weight.
Such a lifting force is needed because some orangutans don’t lift their own bodies alone.
Orangutan infants spend their first six to eight months of life attached to their mothers, then they detach for short periods but still remain attached for most of the time until they reach about 2.5 years of age.
While baby orangutans weigh about 3 pounds at birth, they can get heavy pretty fast.
People believed for a long time that chimps have super strength. However, this is not entirely accurate.
Some studies have shown that chimps are only about 1.5 times stronger than humans. However, this strength is related to their size.
To put things into perspective, the average human male can lift around 155 pounds. With chimps being around 1.5 times stronger, they could lift around 232 pounds, on average.
However, chimpanzees are smaller than humans, so the average chimp is not likely to pull off that performance.
In fact, a human can likely win a fight with a chimp. However, an orangutan would almost always win a one-on-one with a human.
Chimps and orangutans live in different parts of the world. However, the striking difference between their habitats is the way they live.
Chimpanzees are almost exclusively terrestrial. They can climb trees and even sleep in trees. However, they prefer the ground.
Orangutans, on the other hand, are tree-dwelling. Not only do they have an arboreal life, but orangutans rarely – if ever – descend from the trees. That’s because they prefer using lianas and swinging from one tree to another or even jumping from branch to branch.
Orangutans have no reason to climb down a tree – living high above the ground keeps them protected from predators, while their preferred food is always accessible.
Another difference between orangutans and chimps is their behavior. Orangutans are solitary creatures. They live most of their lives alone, except for mating and for mothers caring for their young.
Males can get aggressive – towards other males and females – during the mating period. However, orangutans are generally peaceful creatures.
In periods of mast fruiting, orangutans can gather in small groups to take advantage of the food abundance. Small groups of females with young can also travel together in search of food. However, orangutan groups rarely count more than six members.
Unlike orangutans, chimps are highly social. They thrive in groups, even if adults and weaned young spend their nights alone, in separate nests.
Both orangutans and chimps are highly intelligent creatures. However, chimpanzees share more of their DNA with humans, and their social structures and behaviors are often more similar to those of humans rather than orangutans.
Apparently, chimps can easily discriminate between other individuals, and social interactions range from close friendships to coalitions and enemies. Chimpanzees are also more aggressive than orangutans, both with other chimps and towards other living creatures.
The two apes share dietary preferences, but there are also some important differences.
Orangutans are almost exclusively vegetarian. The major component of their diet is fruit, but they also eat leaves and tree bark. Non-vegetarian components include insects and larvae.
On very rare and opportunistic occasions, orangutans might eat meat. However, they don’t eat bird’s eggs.
Similar to humans, chimpanzees are omnivores. The main elements in their diet have a vegetarian origin, but they also relish meat and have been known to go after small game. Chimpanzees can kill and eat small monkeys, rodents, small antelopes, and even tortoises.
They also eat eggs alongside insects and are opportunistic whenever given a chance.
Both chimpanzees and orangutans have complex reproduction systems, with important differences between one another.
Flanged orangutan males are often dominant and establish a territory that overlaps with the territory of multiple females.
Young males that are not flanged may often travel from one territory to another, but they only establish new territory and become sexually active once they become flanged.
This likely happens because orangutan females have a clear preference for flanged males.
Females reach sexual maturity between five and 11 years of age. Males reach sexual maturity when they are about eight years old; however, they generally only become sexually active after 15 years.
Like most great apes, orangutans don’t have a specific breeding season. They stay active throughout the year and can give birth at any time.
Once the infant is born, the female only becomes sexually active again after about eight years – when the offspring is old enough to become independent.
Chimps also have a complex reproductive system.
Like orangutans, chimps are polygamous. However, dominant male chimps often control sexual access to a female during breeding, ensuring exclusivity.
But female chimps generally have the ability to accept or reject a potential mate. It generally seems that females accept mates based on “friendliness” principles – whether the particular male has played with them, groomed them, etc.
Similarly, a female may choose to mate with multiple males, establishing its dominance over other females in the group.
Apparently, chimps also have the ability to discern between family relationships, females avoiding copulations with their sons or brothers.
Chimps, like orangutans, have no specific breeding season, and females go in heat every three to six years.
9. Gestation Period
Orangutans have a gestation period of 259 days on average, which is about a month longer compared to chimpanzees’ 230 days average gestation. Both chimps and orangutans give birth to one or two infants at a time.
10. Life Expectancy
When it comes to life expectancy in the wild, orangutans have a clear advantage. They can live up to 45 years, with orangutans in captivity reportedly reaching their 60th birthday. Meanwhile, most chimps in the wild won’t even make it to their 40th.
A joint study by Yale University, the University of Michigan, and Arizona State University concluded that chimps have an average lifespan of 33 years. However, some chimp communities have an even shorter life expectancy, averaging 27 years.
11. Conservation Status
Another major difference – unfortunately a sad one – between the two species is the conservation status.
Chimpanzees are endangered, according to the WWF, with a population between 172,700 to 299,700 left in the wild.
Meanwhile, there are only about 104,700 Bornean orangutans. Other orangutan species are even more critical, with Tapanuli orangutans counting only around 800 individuals.
All orangutan species are critically endangered, and deforestation of their habitat is leading to their slow extinction.
Orangutans and chimpanzees are great apes sharing most of their DNA between themselves and with humans. However, they have different habitats, social structures, and reproductive behaviors. Orangutans are solitary yet peaceful primates. Chimps live in groups, but they are more aggressive.
Orangutans are stronger and larger than chimps. However, in a one-on-one, chimps would likely win due to their more aggressive and agile nature.