Zoo Atlanta will close early on Sat., May 25 for Brew at the Zoo. Gates will close at 1:30 p.m. and grounds will close at 3 p.m. 

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Gorillas and humans: What do we have in common?

Hi Zoo Atlanta fans! It’s Ella here from the Primate Team, and I’d like to tell you guys a little bit about what humans and gorillas have in common. As you might know, we’re both primates, and there is only about a 1.6% difference between a human’s and gorilla’s DNA! So, what are some of the most interesting commonalities between us?

My favorite is our ears! Both humans and gorillas have a very similar outer ear structure. Make sure to check this out the next time you visit the gorillas here at the Zoo. Another fascinating similarity is our hands. Both gorillas and humans have opposable thumbs and fingers with fingernails. A gorilla’s fingernails grow out just like ours; however, they do not need theirs filed, or cut as theirs tend to wear down on through normal gorilla wear and tear.

Along with those akin physical characteristics, female gorillas also experience pregnancy in a very similar way. A gorilla’s gestation period (the time from conception to birth) is about 8.5 months, very close to the nine months it takes in humans. Once the baby is born, the mother stays in very close contact with the newborn for the first few years of its life. Unlike many human children, though, a baby gorilla usually nurses from the mother for up to four years to obtain important nutrients! Just like a human mother will often get help with raising her child, other females in the gorilla mother’s group will also act as caretakers of the newborn whenever assistance is needed. All moms can use a babysitter every now and then.

So, what kind of characteristics lie within that 1.6% difference? Well, remember the opposable thumbs we both have on our hands? Gorillas also have opposable toes! Their feet look like their hands with their “big toe” in the place of the thumb. Often, you can see 2-year-old Floyd dragging some hay or wood wool behind him with his toes to play with later. Having opposable digits on all their hands and feet helps them to be great climbers! Both inside and outside the gorilla building, our guys have plenty of props to climb around on and hang from.

While gorillas and humans do have the same dentition or teeth structure, gorillas have a much stronger bite force. An adult male gorilla can break open a coconut with his bite. Why can gorillas bite down so much harder than us?  It has to do with additional muscle attachments for their jaws. The muscle for a human jaw attaches to our cheekbones, while the muscle of a gorilla’s jaws extend all the way up to the top of their head!

Before I leave you guys, here is one more fun fact difference between gorillas and us, and it has to do with our names. You might know that humans are scientifically known as Homo sapiens, but did you know that because western lowland gorillas are just so great, scientists decided to call them Gorilla gorilla gorilla? Guess we just cannot get enough gorilla!

Ella E.
Primate Keeper


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