As the largest living primate, Gorillas are arguably one of the most revered beasts in the animal kingdom and due to their size and stature are respected by all.
Like all primates their physical resemblance to human beings has attracted a lot of attention from the world of academia and the general public as a whole, making them one of the most popular and intensely studied animals in recent years.
Due to their stocky build, fur coats and large canines they have been painted as fierce and aggressive animals. However, the truth is that most types of Gorillas are natural omnivores, apart from the Western Lowland gorilla, which prefers a diet comprised largely of leaves and berries, and while many may assume they are territorial – they actually aren’t.
Their relationship to humans is no coincidence either – they share an incredible amount of DNA with us – up to 99%. Being closely related to humans, they are highly social animals and demonstrate similar characteristics such as the ability to laugh and grieve for their kin.
However, one of the major distinctions between us and Gorillas is their bone density and muscle mass. So just how strong are gorillas?
The Strength of a Gorilla
There are two different species of Gorillas each with two subspecies and a debated third, so it’s important to bear this in mind when talking about gorilla strength. No in-depth studies have been conducted on the strength of gorillas in particular but there have been a handful of documented examples of the strength of particular body parts.
Upper Body Strength
For example, an adult silverback gorilla is estimated to have upper body strength of six times stronger than an adult male human. This stark difference between gorillas and humans is largely down to them navigating and swinging from trees more recently than ourselves. Their large biceps and arm muscles are perhaps their strongest asset and there have been sightings and video evidence of gorillas breaking banana trees in half with very little effort.
The Guinness book of records 1975 reported that a 100Lbs chimp achieved a deadlift of 600 Lbs with little effort suggesting that, with training, a male gorilla could raise 1800Lbs. To compare this with the power lifting world record of a bench 709Lbs deadlift – certainly a considerable difference in strength between humans and primates.
A bench press or similar compound movements involving weightlifting would probably be one of the most effective ways to measure the muscle strength in apes, hence why the above example provides a good indicator of their strength. However, even though there’s no denying gorilla have a hefty muscle mass – 46% of body mass in lowland gorillas compared with around 45% in human powerlifters; their body shape probably limits them.
For example, lifting large weights requires you to be able to have a good amount of control of the range of motion (ROM) and torque in the shoulders, which is affected by limb length, stature and leg position. Longer limbs tend to impart a longer ROM, while short legs mean the gorilla would struggle to provide the necessary driving force to lift a heavyweight.
Gorillas have large and impressive canines and their jaw strength is much more formidable than their upper body strength. The bite of a silverback has been recorded at an impressive 1,300 pounds per square inch (PSI), much stronger than a lion at 650 PSI and even surpassing a great white shark at 625 PSI.
This surprises many people due to their largely herbivorous diets and seemingly passive nature, yet they require such strength to chew hardy plant fibres that require a lot of strength to break up. They also use their jaws to inflict damage and kill prey, although this isn’t typical behaviour, dominant silverback gorillas have been known to fight to the death to maintain their status in the group.
Why are Gorillas so Strong?
Considering that gorillas have a largely omnivores diet, many people naturally wonder why they are so large in size and why they require so much strength. After all with so much muscle mass, it’s easy to assume they may have a carnivorous diet largely comprised of meat in order to build so much so much muscle. Animals such as the Belgian Blue bull that has a diet comprising of grass alone, demonstrating that this isn’t always true. In fact, our muscle composition is largely due to our genes and not simply our behavior.
A gorilla’s strength and muscle mass is related to what anthropologist’s term robusticity. In simple terms this means that it is a trait derived from species ancestors and doesn’t relate to an animal’s current environment and behviors. However, the adaptation of being strong and large has remained in gorillas today has it has allowed them to adapt in order to become successful. Two major reasons include the requirement of huge jaw strength in order to consume and chew through hard plant fibers such as bamboo and the competition for mates obviously favors muscle mass and strength.
The above examples demonstrate the impressive strength of certain gorillas, and while there is little doubt that gorillas are indeed much stronger than humans and other primates, it’s important to be aware of variations. For instance there may be large variations in body size, shape, bone density and muscle mass between the different gorilla species, sexes and within the same species.