gorilla facts

11 Gorilla Facts Exploring The True Nature Of The Gentle Giants

Gorillas are the ultimate rock stars in the primate kingdom, impressing us with their incredible strength, intelligence, and social behavior. And upon reading our collection of gorilla facts, you will realize they're gentle creatures, usually shy and not prone to aggression unless provoked. 

One fascinating truth about gorillas is that nearly 98% of their DNA is the same as ours. This makes them a crucial resource in understanding ourselves. Another fact is that gorillas can weigh up to 400 pounds and stand over six feet tall. Browse our gorilla facts to learn more.

For more info about primates, check out our collection of monkey facts.

11 Gorilla Facts Everyone Must Know

facts about gorilla in their natural habitat
Photo by Simbi Yvan on Unsplash

1. They are the largest primates.

Gorillas are the largest primates on Earth. Adult female gorillas tip the scales at 70-90 kg, whereas their male counterparts, standing tall at a whopping six feet, can weigh anywhere from 300 to 450 pounds. That's roughly equivalent to 135 to 200 kilograms!

The largest being the eastern gorillas, specifically the silverback males from the eastern lowland gorillas. These creatures can clock in at 400 pounds, equivalent to 180 kilograms, and stand tall at approximately 5.6 feet or 1.7 meters. These impressive creatures live in the forests of Central Africa.

2. There are only two gorilla species.

mountain gorilla walking in the forest
Photo by Luc Huyghebaert on Unsplash

There are only two gorilla species: the Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), and four gorilla subspecies. 

The Eastern gorillas have two subspecies: the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri). They primarily inhabit the forests of Uganda (specifically the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park), Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The Western gorillas also have two subspecies: the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla or river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). They inhabit regions of central Africa, including Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea.

The cross-river gorilla is the rarest and most critically endangered among the subspecies. Current population estimates number less than 300, making them highly vulnerable to extinction.

3. Silverbacks are born leaders. 

Did you know that silverbacks are not ordinary gorillas but rather a select group of leaders within the gorilla community? They earn their name from the silver-colored hair patch on their backs, which appears once they reach adulthood and signifies dominance.

Silverbacks are powerful and authoritative creatures within their groups. Silverbacks are mostly dominant males. They protect the group, resolve conflicts, and make critical decisions to ensure the troop's survival. Their crucial role is to maintain order and harmony among the troop, which typically includes multiple females and their young males.

But it's not just about physical dominance. Silverbacks possess exceptional intelligence and wisdom. These leaders use vocalizations, facial expressions, chest-beating displays, and gentle touches to convey messages. 

So next time you hear "silverback," remember it represents more than just a color. It symbolizes strength, leadership, and wisdom in the animal kingdom. 

4. Gorillas have a complex social structure.

Gorillas are social creatures with a complex social structure centered around family groups called troops. These groups consist of multiple females, their offspring, and a dominant silverback or adult male gorilla who leads and protects the troop.

Gorillas live in groups where both males and females leave their birth groups. The Western male gorilla often stays close to their male relatives. Meanwhile, mature females may transfer between groups more than once. Interactions within gorilla groups are mainly between adult males and individual females. Gorillas compete intensely for group control, sometimes resulting in takeovers accompanied by infanticide1.

On the other hand, the cross river gorilla lives in small groups with an average size of 4-7 individuals, which is smaller than other gorilla subspecies. Their specific habitat and limited population size shape their social structure. 

A multimale group is also possible among gorillas. The mountain gorillas are the prime example where silverbacks coexist with other gorillas, and second-ranking males also sire offspring.

5. Gorillas have opposable thumbs, like us!

closeup of gorilla hands
Photo by Bob Brewer on Unsplash

Another interesting fact about gorillas is that they have opposable thumbs, just like humans do! Gorillas can touch their thumbs to the tips of their fingers. 

Interestingly, few mammals have thumbs that can move and oppose their other fingers. Some examples are opossums, koalas, and panda bears. Only marmosets and tarsiers among primates have thumbs that can't oppose their fingers. 

Gorillas can grip and manipulate objects with dexterity. Like us, they utilize their opposable thumbs efficiently, adeptly grasping food, picking items, and cleverly using tools. This ability is crucial in their daily activities and helps them navigate their environment effectively.

6. Gorillas are leaf lovers.

They may look mean and intimidating, but these gentle giants are herbivores. Gorillas eat leaves, stems, fruits, wild celery, bamboo shoots, bark, and occasionally ants and termites.

Because of their plant-based diet, gorillas play a crucial role in shaping their environment. As they move through the forest, they unintentionally disperse seeds from the plants they eat. This seed dispersal helps maintain genetic diversity and enables forest regeneration.

They also help shape their habitat's structure through selective feeding, resulting in vegetation density and composition modifications within their home range. It creates open spaces for sunlight to reach the forest floor, promoting the growth of different plant species. 

7. Gorillas are endemic to Africa.

ape eating plants
Photo by Jeremy Stone on Unsplash

Next up in our list of Gorilla facts, we explore their home, the tropical forests and lowland swamps of central Africa. They specifically roam the lands of Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon.

They live in dense rainforests and montane forests. While gorillas are mainly ground-dwelling creatures, they can climb trees. Gorilla habitats have lush vegetation and canopy hideouts.

The rich biodiversity of their habitats, including various plant and animal species, creates a thriving ecosystem for wild gorillas. Water sources, such as rivers and streams, also set natural boundaries and provide water to the gorilla population. 

8. Mountain gorillas live in two isolated areas. 

Mountain gorilla habitat is primarily in mist-covered mountain forests in east-central Africa. There are two isolated groups of these species. The Virunga Mountains, a notable biodiversity hotspot, are the habitat for the first group. Bordering Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the area is home to around half the mountain gorilla population.

The second population inhabits the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda. This UNESCO World Heritage site has dense and rugged terrain, providing a sanctuary for these gorillas.

A significant distance separates both mountain gorilla populations; each has a distinct set of challenges and conservation efforts. We need to safeguard these isolated groups. Our actions are vital in ensuring the survival of this endangered species.

9. The smallest gorilla is the Western lowland gorilla.

In the realm of gorillas, where size reigns supreme, the Western Lowland Gorilla shines as the modest member of the Gorilla family. While not necessarily the runt, they claim the title of the smallest among the gorilla family.

These gorillas are unique; they're indeed smaller than their larger cousins. A fully grown male typically weighs between 300-400 pounds and measures between 4.6 – 5.6 feet tall when standing upright. Females tend to be smaller, usually weighing in at 150-250 pounds and reaching a height range of 4-5 feet.

10. Gorillas observe unique nesting behavior.

mother and baby gorilla
Photo by Ylenia Vimercati Molano on Unsplash

Another interesting gorilla fact is that they construct nests on the ground or in trees to sleep at night. Each gorilla builds a nest using leaves and branches before sleeping3.

Most gorillas spend their nights in the ground like adult mountain gorillas, rarely sleeping on trees. Meanwhile, adult western lowland gorillas prefer not to reuse their sleeping spot. Gorillas search for food where it is abundant; they frequently change locations and leave their nests behind.

Gorilla nests help experts count gorilla populations because they are easier to see. These abandoned nests provide valuable information to researchers studying ape groups. 

Nest counts can help experts estimate population size. Adult apes have individual nests, while baby gorillas sleep with their mothers until age 3. Hair samples from nests assess personal health. Nest feces indicate food availability and identify ape species based on smell.

11. Gorillas are at serious risk of extinction.

silverback protecting his territory
Photo by Brandon Schmidt on Unsplash

Gorillas are in grave danger. The Western gorillas, which include the Western Lowland gorilla and Cross River gorillas, are critically endangered. The Eastern Gorilla, with two subspecies, the Mountain and Eastern Lowland gorilla, recently went from Endangered to Critically Endangered because its population has declined by over 70% in just 20 years.

These gentle giants are battling significant threats. They're victims of widespread poaching and losing their homes due to chopping down forests for farming, mining, building development, and more. Meanwhile, poachers continue to hunt gorillas, while unstructured gorilla tourism can also affect mountain gorillas' behavior and health.

Moreover, these great apes are at risk of diseases due to their genetic similarity to humans2. Human diseases like Ebola can be transmitted to gorillas from humans or other animals, posing a significant threat and further endangering their populations.

Conservation organizations work tirelessly to conserve Mountain Gorillas and their habitats through initiatives focusing on anti-poaching efforts, habitat preservation, educating local communities, and regulating ecotourism.

Several organizations, such as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), actively work towards conservation through research, education, and gorilla habitat protection. 

Share your favorite gorilla fact on your social media feeds, and remember to tag us!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with G.

1

Watts, D. C. (2010). Infanticide in Mountain Gorillas: New Cases and a Reconsideration of the Evidence. Ethology, 81(1), 1–18.

2

Scally, A., Dutheil, J. Y., Hillier, L. W., Jordan, G. J., Goodhead, I., Herrero, J., Hobolth, A., Lappalainen, T., Mailund, T., Marques-Bonet, T., McCarthy, S. A., Montgomery, S. B., Schwalie, P. C., Tang, Y., Ward, M. C., Xue, Y., Yngvadottir, B., Alkan, C., Andersen, L. B., . . . Durbin, R. (2012). Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence. Nature, 483(7388), 169–175.

3

Bolwig, N. (1959). A study of the nests built by mountain gorilla and chimpanzee (pdf). South African Journal of Science55(11), 286-291.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash
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