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Undiscovered by Europeans until the 19th century, the gorilla is the largest member of the apes. Usually a peaceful giant, a male gorilla can have the strength of six to eight men, and its extraordinary strength makes it fearless. There are two species of gorilla, the mountain gorilla, which has longer fur, and the lowland gorilla.
The gorilla ranges from brown to black with gray mixed in. Mature males have a sagittal crest on their heads and are larger than the females. The face of the gorilla is black and hairless. The gorilla is a quadruped, walking on its knuckles and rarely standing. Males pound their chest when threatened or curious. Young gorillas pound their chest when playing.
Gorillas live in family groups as small as 10 and as large as 30, led by a mature male. These males will often have silver hair on their backs, thus earning them the name “silver back.”
Gorillas build a nest every night. They wake up late and go to sleep early.
When not feeding, they like to lie around and groom each other. Gorillas feed on fruit, leaves, bamboo, buds, stems, and other plants. If a gorilla is thirsty, it puts the back of its hand in the water and sucks the water from its coarse hair. It also obtains water from the plants that it eats. Gorillas don’t like rivers and avoid crossing even a small stream.
Gorillas mate all year long. The female produces one offspring after a gestation period of nine months. At birth, a gorilla baby weighs four to five pounds but matures quickly. The baby stays with its mother for about three years. These young gorillas like to play with others of the troop, including patient adult males. The female of the species matures at six or seven years while the male matures a year or two later. He will not reach his full size until he is 12 to 14 years old.
Gorillas are a favorite at zoos all over the world. Although they have no natural enemies, they have been hunted and captured by man. In 1960 there were 15,000 gorillas, but today there are fewer than 500.
Primates • Pongidae • Gorilla gorilla
Height: 6.7 feet (2 m)
Weight: 500 pounds (250 kg)
Life Span: 50 years
Special Design Feature: The gorilla was created with a thumb on its feet for grasping and climbing.
Did You Know? The gorilla is the largest member of the ape family and has the strength of six to eight men.