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The adaptations that make gorillas special

Hello Zoo people! My name is Allie, and I am a member of the Gorilla Care Team here at Zoo Atlanta. Today I’m going to teach you about a few of the physical adaptations that make gorillas unique! These abilities are necessary to help them both in zoos and in the wild.

Let’s look at gorillas and their body shape! As you already know, gorillas are large animals that weigh between 180 and 450 pounds. Have you seen Charlie? He lives in Habitat 1 and is the largest gorilla at Zoo Atlanta, weighing 420 pounds! To support the weight of their bodies, gorillas have a dense skeleton. Gorillas aren’t just big; they’re incredibly strong too! Gorillas are said to have eight to 10 times the strength of an adult human!

Charlie also likes to often display among his bachelor troop. Displaying is when a gorilla asserts dominance using a variety of communication devices. This typically involves a gorilla standing on all fours, strutting around with stiff limbs in an attempt to look as big as possible. Again, Charlie can be seen exhibiting this behavior frequently.

Looking at a gorilla, you’ll notice that their arms are longer than their legs. This allows gorillas to stand in a natural quadrupedal posture, reducing stress on their bones and joints … must be nice! Maybe we should all walk like gorillas! In order to truly walk like a gorilla, we would also have to walk on the knuckles of our hands and the palms of our feet. However, like humans, gorillas can walk bipedally for a short period of time. The adolescents in our family troop, including 2-year-old Mijadala, are often seen “running” on two feet! I’m being generous … it’s more of a waddle.

Also, like humans, gorillas have fully opposable thumbs. The geriatric female at Zoo Atlanta, Choomba, can be seen carrying food in her mouth, hands and feet. Yes, I said feet, because unlike humans, gorillas have a semi-opposable big toe. This allows gorillas to successfully handle small objects, securely hold infants, climb, and more!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this Keeper Blog! I hope you all learned something and that you teach your friends and family why gorillas are exceptional animals! Remember to come see our 19 gorillas next time you visit and see these adaptations and behaviors in action!
Allie C.
Keeper I, Primates

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