Samboja the orangutan will soon choose who she’s going to have sex with in the same way that many humans do: by swiping through a scroll of suitors at home. On Monday, a female ape from Apenheul primate park in the Netherlands began an experiment referred to as “Tinder for orangutans.” Unfortunately for Samboja, her success with dating apps is likely to go badly. Orangutans — just like us — need to get a whiff of their future mates.
“This is completely digital, of course,” Thomas Bionda, a behavioral biologist at the primate park, told The Guardian. “Usually, smell plays an important role too. But with [these] orangutans, it will be what you see is what you get.”
The goal of the project is that the 11-year-old Samboja will choose who she wants to mate with by looking at possible partners on a touchscreen tablet, thereby giving behavioral biologists will gain a better understanding of how female orangutans choose their partners. Typically, captive orangutans leave a mating situation without having done any mating. However, just because Samboja is swiping through a bunch of cuties doesn’t mean that everyone involved is going to get lucky: Smell won’t be a factor she can consider — which, for animals and humans, is the key to copulation.
In primate groups, social odors are complex chemical mixtures that provide information about kinship, sex, and an individual’s reproductive state. Smells also influence decisions relating to motivation, memory, and decision-making — a complex series of effects, which include sexual arousal.
Odors induce sexual behavior in most (if not all) animals, including humans. Two main factors are at play here: olfactory receptors and pheromones. When an animal smells something, olfactory signals ignite the brain’s neocortex, which kickstarts a process of emotional response. Behavioral and physiological responses emerge when an animal reacts to another animal’s pheromones.
Some humans are so confident in the power of smell that they’ve created a dating service to incorporate it: Smell Dating. Here, instead of choosing someone on the basis of their photo, you choose them by their smell left over on a piece of fabric.
Smell may be something that the researchers working with Samboja will want to consider, if they want to increase their chances of her actually wanting to mate when she meets the lucky guy. But before that, they have one problem to sort through first: creating a tablet that can sustain the smashing Samboja plans on doing with it.