We’ve all seen the movie “King Kong”, but how much do we actually know about these mighty primates? These enlarged monkeys generally mind their own business, and you will usually find them roaming the ground or nearby waters. Residing in the luscious forests of Africa, gorillas are one of the more fascinating animals we get to learn about, and learn from, on our beautiful planet earth.
As humans, it’s important to do everything we can to understand gorillas. There are so many interesting facts about gorillas, from their diet and their habitat, to their conservation threats, and the many other aspects that make them so remarkable.
This article will educate and enlighten you on everything you want to know about these majestic King Kongs.
29 Interesting Facts About Gorillas
There’s so much to learn about these fascinating primates, from their habitats to their habits, you are bound to learn something new and wonderful. Let’s find out more about the impressive gorilla.
There are two types of gorilla species – eastern and western gorillas. These are further divided into four subspecies. The two western species are the western lowland (gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the cross river (gorilla gorilla diehli).
The two eastern subspecies are the eastern lowland gorilla (gorilla beringei graueri) and the Mountain gorilla (gorilla beringei beringei). eastern gorilla subspecies are blacker in color while western gorilla subspecies are more brownish-gray.
It has been observed by scientists that gorillas in fact have individual personalities, just like humans. They are capable of feeling and displaying genuine emotions such as grief, love, and compassion.
Along with individual personalities, gorillas display changes in moods and other subtle nuances and mannerisms that humans are familiar with.
Did you know that gorillas are vegetarians? Yes, upon first glance one would assume they are vicious meat-eaters. They have one of the most powerful bites in all of the animal kingdom (stronger than that of the mighty lion or tiger of the cat family).
However, despite contrary belief, these herbivores use their incredibly strong jaw muscles to feed on the plants around them. They are very peaceable animals although they may look slightly on the vicious side.
A fully grown adult can consume up to 30kg of plant matter and leaves a day. This is as much as ten times more than what humans eat in a day. With the exception of some species dabbling in snails and small insects, their diet consists largely of bamboo shoots, fruits, small branches, and nuts.
These gentle giants will only show aggression or defense when either they, or their family members are threatened. They do say that green is the most calming color, so imagine how relaxed these fuzzy giants must be, what with being surrounded by leafy greens every day. They mind their own business, living together for many years, and raising their young.
Gorilla families are led by a dominant adult male gorilla in the community, known as the silverback. This alpha becomes the troops’ silverback at the age of about 13 years old.
Although troop numbers can vary, there cannot be more than one silverback. This alpha gorilla will only show aggression if threatened and you will know when you see him beating on his chest for intimidation purposes, like a real-life King-Kong.
Humans share up to about 98.3% similar DNA with gorillas. This makes them highly genetically similar to humans and it makes studying them even more fascinating and rewarding.
However, this also, unfortunately, means that gorillas are vulnerable to all the cold and flu viruses that humans contract, except that they are without immunization against them. It’s even more reason to protect these majestic animals at all costs.
Not only do these great apes share around 98.3% of human DNA, but they also have their very own unique fingerprints, much like humans. They also each have a unique nose print, or nose pattern, that individualizes them further.
Scientists are able to escalate their learning and bonding with these animals by noting the differences in gorilla nose patterns as a way to tell them apart from one another. This is how humans have been able to create a real rapport with gorillas in the wild.
These brilliant two-legged legends are, very sadly, critically endangered. And the classification of critically endangered is simply one level before complete extinction.
Due to natural disasters, global warming, deforestation, and poaching for ‘bushmeat’, our gorilla friends’ environments are getting smaller and their habitation has become compromised. In fact, the biggest threat to this population is their habitat loss.
Every year gorilla populations decrease by 2.7%, but conservationists are working ever-hard to counter this. Including the conservation of a healthy ecosystem with all the natural plants and animals that abound in it.
A gorilla’s height can equate to that of a fully-grown human, at about 5’5” feet (165 cm), and they can weigh well over 440 lbs (200kgs).
The adult males – silverbacks – can be up to 10 times stronger than a human. Unless of course you can also tear down a banana tree, or bend an iron bar with your bare hands.
Over the years of observing and studying, these higher primates have been recorded using tools. They’ve explored the creation of cutlery, and even their own rendition of ladders to aid their young in climbing trees. They can even learn and perform sign language, which is a fascinating feat.
Scientists have also observed gorillas making use of branches and sticks to measure water depth before crossing a river, for instance. It’s no secret they are highly intelligent primates.
Grooming one another is both a bonding exercise for their great apes, as well as a way to maintain and take care of their fur.
They do this by taking turns to comb each other’s hair, with both their teeth and their hands. Gorillas have also been recorded to groom and faff over a deceased troop member, such as a dead silverback. These grooming rituals are equivalent to the act of humans holding hands.
Communication between these primates happens as a very vocal ‘belch’ vocalization. When it comes to intimidation tactics, communication includes the beating of their chests, and in the case of males, strutting with stiff legs. You will also see charging as a demonstration of aggression.
The last two acts are rare, but will certainly be used when they feel threatened. Although they are generally quiet creatures, gorillas will locate one another with the use of a low grumble.
In certain species, such as the Mountain gorilla, the belch vocalization signifies contentment during a foraging excursion or acts as a contact call. Other vocalizations include roaring or hooting. Under the guidance of humans, they can learn a generous amount of both spoken and sign language as we’ve learned already.
In fact, gorillas have around 16 different calls and can learn up to 2,000 words.
It’s true, a gorilla’s arms surpass their legs in length, and it’s for this reason that they walk on all fours. When it comes to their arms, they predominantly walk on the knuckles of their hands, this is known as “knuckle-walking”.
But even more impressively, they can opt to walk on their legs alone if they choose to, just like humans. However, you see knuckle-walking much more frequently amongst gorillas, as it provides them with more stability and balance when it comes to climbing hills or trees.
These beautiful beasts live in high-altitude places, up to 7,612 feet above sea level (2,320 meters). In order to stay warm in these conditions, they have particularly long, thick hair.
Gorillas usually inhabit tropical climates which of course means very rainy conditions for most of the year. They thrive in these types of conditions because they are safely wrapped in a long, thick coat of hair.
Gorillas have dark brown eyes, and an iris framed by a dark ring. Humans of course have various eye colors, whereas gorillas have a single eye color – dark brown.
There are certain domestic animals that also possess different eye colors, however, this is a rare find in wild animals.
If you wondered where the name ‘silverback’ came from, then you probably guessed it. At a certain age, the hair on a male’s back starts to turn gray, hence the name ‘silverback’.
Young males between the ages of 8 and 12 have black hair, they are known as blackbacks. However, as they get older, around the age of 12 years old, their hair turns a gray/silver color due to increased testosterone. It is essentially their way of going through puberty.
On average, gorillas can live between 35 and 40 years old. This lifespan can be even longer for gorillas in captivity – up to 50 years old. In fact, the oldest known gorilla, from the Ohio Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, lived to be 60 years old. Sadly, she died in 2017.
While silverback males lead a troop or a band of gorillas, most of the remaining troop members are female. This is because once any male offspring become old enough to mate, the silverback leader will usually cast them out.
The main reason for this is that silverbacks hold sole rights to mate with the females in the troop. And so they wish to remove any other up-and-coming competition from newly matured males in their troop.
A female gorilla will carry her young for around 8.5 months which is almost as long as a human pregnancy. She will also only carry one live young for the most part. However, twins are rare, but not unheard of.
She will also only carry one baby every few years, and bear around three to four children in her lifetime. A baby gorilla is around four pounds at birth.
Baby gorillas are called infants and a mother gorilla will carry her young in her arms until they reach about four months of age. She will also nurse them until they are about three years old.
Once these infants are two months old they can crawl, and they begin to walk at around eight or nine months of age. Thereafter, they will enjoy riding on their mother’s back when going from place to place.
Once these primates reach around 10 years old they are considered mature. Mature females will usually leave the pack at this point to find a mate and join another band of gorillas.
Blackbacks, young males, will either wander alone and become solidarity silverbacks, or they will find a mate and start their own family.
A rather fascinating fact about gorillas is that they are pretty easy-going when it comes to their water needs. They don’t require a fresh water source nearby to stay hydrated.
This is because they get all the water they need from the food they eat and from the dew that lies on their food in the early mornings.
There are said to be over 4,000 western lowland gorillas in zoos and over 360,000 in the wild. Of all the gorilla subspecies, western lowland gorillas have the highest remaining numbers.
This is partly because they have the widest habitat range. They inhabit all the way across Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon.
These nomadic creatures don’t stay in one place for an extended period of time. Every morning they are on the move in search of food.
At the end of the day, they build their nests or ‘beds’ from grasses and tree branches. In the morning, they will abandon the nest and head to their next destination. They usually build these nests up in the trees – they particularly like using bamboo trees.
Feeding time usually occurs in the mornings or evenings for these mammals. Their main trekking time is in the mornings.
After this event, and during the course of the day, they will usually nap and rest, while their infants play and forage for snacks. Then they will eat together again as soon as evening time rolls around.
This means that these great apes are very sensitive to changes around them, particularly changes in their surroundings. It is a big reason why the changing environment poses such a big threat to the survival of this remarkable species.
Gorillas play a huge role in plant propagation and germination in the wild. These herbivores feed on plants and seeds which, once passed through their systems, germinate. In fact, some plant species would not survive without these massive mammals in the ecosystem.
Not all gorillas can be kept in enclosed spaces, such as zoo establishments. If you spot a gorilla on your trip to the zoo, then it is likely a western lowland gorilla (gorilla gorilla gorilla). Mountain gorillas are, unfortunately, too rare and few in number for such captivity.
According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), gorillas are the world’s largest primates. Male gorillas are often double the size of female gorillas. These primates are huge, reaching heights and weights far greater than any other primate on earth.
We have said that these robust primates have a bite stronger than the lion and the tiger, so why would gorillas have natural enemies? The truth is, gorillas are rather apprehensive of water and prefer to cross rivers and streams. They’ll typically do anything to try and stay as dry as possible.
They will ideally get to the other side on a fallen tree, or wade through a shallower section. This makes them vulnerable to many water-dwelling enemies.
They also shy away from rain, using caves and trees for shelter, and stay motionless until it passes. Furthermore, gorillas would also not go out of their way to encounter a chameleon or a caterpillar, as comical as that may sound.
It’s no secret that these mammals are fascinating creatures. Not to mention, there is truly so much that we can afford to learn from these magnificent apes. Gorillas, your closest cousins, value community, peace, problem-solving, and taking care of each other.
Humans can definitely look to these vegetarian forest foragers for some encouragement. If you are fortunate enough to have a close-up encounter with a gorilla, then that is obviously first prize and promises to be magical.
Next time you are watching “King Kong”, you will hopefully think of the silverbacks beating their chests and have a newfound appreciation for these magnificent, resilient, gentle giants.