African Gorilla Facts

Facts about African Mountain Gorillas

Physical Characteristics of Gorillas

Gorillas are massive, with a short, thick trunk and broad chest and shoulders. Its eyes and ears are dwarfed by its large head and hairless, shiny black muzzle. Older males develop a crown of muscle and hair that makes the head look even longer. The arms are longer than the stubby legs. The fully adult male mountain gorilla is twice as large as the female.

The Head: Gorillas have a very large head with a bulging forehead, a crest on top (it is called the sagittal crest, and is larger on male gorillas), tiny ears, and small, dark-brown eyes. Gorillas have no tail. Adult gorillas have 32 teeth, with large molars (flat teeth used for chewing food) and large canines (pointy teeth used for biting), which are especially large in the male gorillas. Gorillas each have a unique nose print (like we have unique fingerprints).

Behavior: Gorillas are shy and retiring rather than ferocious and treacherous. It usually seeks no trouble unless harassed but will valiantly defend its family group if threatened. Family groups are close-knit and may have up to 30 members, but even if smaller, the group usually consists of at least one older male, one or more females and a few juveniles. A group’s hierarchy, ritualized behavior and bluff charges between males prevent conflict among and between groups. Gorillas scream, grab foliage and stuff it in their mouths, stand erect on their hind legs, tear up and throw plants, drum on the chest with hands or fists, stamp their feet, strike the ground with the palms of their hands and gallop in a mock attack on all fours.

Diet: Gorillas need a lot of food and the vegetarian gorilla is no exception. Although they eat a variety of plants, favorites include wild celery, bamboo, thistles, stinging nettles, bedstraw and certain fruit. These plants seem to provide sufficient moisture so that gorillas do not need water. A gorilla will typically spend a third of the day eating, a third of the day foraging for food and playing, with the rest of the time spent resting and sleeping. Gorillas live in small family groups known as troops. The typical Gorillas troop includes one silverback, a male leader, one immature male, three or four adult females and three to six young offspring under eight years of age. While gorillas are generally peaceable, conflicts can occur when troops interact, particularly if a solitary male contacts a new group.

Gorillas rarely drink water; the water contained in their diet is apparently enough to sustain them. An average adult male eats approximately 50 pounds of food a day.

Grooming young ones: Mountain gorillas have a slow rate of reproduction and females give birth for the first time at about age 10 and will have more offspring every three or four years. A male begins to breed between 12 and 15 years, when he is in charge of his own group. Able to conceive for only about three days each month, the female produces a single young. New born gorillas are weak and tiny, weighing in at about 4 pounds. Their movements are as awkward as those of human infants, but their development is roughly twice as fast. At 3 or 4 months, the gorilla infant can sit upright and can stand with support soon after. It suckles regularly for about a year and is gradually weaned at about 31/2 years, when it becomes more independent.

Predators: The gorilla’s only known enemies are leopards and humans. Crocodiles are potentially dangerous to lowland gorillas. In western Africa, gorillas are commonly hunted for meat or in retaliation for crop raiding, but in eastern Africa they have been the victims of snares and traps set for antelope and other animals. Poachers have also destroyed entire family groups in their attempts to capture infant gorillas for zoos, while others are killed to sell their heads and hands as trophies.

Gorillas are mainly herbivorous apes

A male gorilla can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height and weight around 480 pounds (220 kilograms), depending on the subspecies, while a female can grow up to around 5 feet (1.5 m) in height and weigh up to 215 pounds (98 kg). The lifespan of a gorilla is 35-50 years. Like humans, gorillas have 10 fingers and 10 toes, small ears on the side of their heads, 32 teeth and forward-looking eyes. While they are capable of walking upright, gorillas predominantly walk on four limbs. Although they have no discernible language, it is estimated that gorillas have at least 22 distinct sounds, which they use for communication.

Hair and Skin: Gorillas are covered with brownish hair on most of their body except their fingers, palms, face, armpits, and bottoms of their feet. Senses: Gorillas have senses very similar to ours, including hearing, sight (they seem to be slightly nearsighted and to have color vision), smell, taste, and touch.

Hands and Feet: Gorillas’ hands are very much like ours; they have five fingers, including an opposable thumb. Their feet have five toes, including an opposable big toe. Gorillas can grasp things with both their hands and their feet.

Intelligence: Gorillas are very intelligent and can learn extremely complex tasks for example they are capable of using tools like sticks, stones among others.

Sleeping Nests: Every evening, gorillas construct nests for the night in which they will curl up and sleep. These bowl-shaped nests are made out of leaves and other plant material. Nests are only shared by a mother and her nursing offspring. Scientists who study gorillas can easily estimate a local gorilla population by counting the number of “nests.”

Aggression: Gorillas are not aggressive however, if disturbed, they may make a lot of noise, but they rarely confront another animal.

Ways of Communication

Gorillas are generally quiet and humble unles disturbed. They communicate with each other using many complicated sounds and gestures. Gorillas use at least 25 recognized vocalizations, including grunts, roars, growls, whines, chuckles, hooting, etc. Some gorilla gestures include chest-beating, high-pitched barks, lunging, throwing objects, staring, lip-tucking, sticking out the tongue, sideways running, slapping, and rising to a two-legged stance among others.

Communication is used to teach the young the many skills that they need to survive, and for other gorillas to communicate about food, social relationships, distress, mating, etc.

Gorilla Movements: Gorillas knuckle-walk using both their legs and their long arms (putting pressure on their knuckles, with the fingers rolled into the hand). Gorillas rarely walk using only their legs. They can climb trees, but do not do so very often. Gorillas cannot swim.

Habitat: Gorillas live in tropical rain forests (in the forest edges and clearings), wet lowland forests, swamps, and abandoned fields.

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