julio lacerda

biomechanicalmush  asked:

I think now would be an excellent time to talk a little about gigantopithecus. That darn big ape.

Several weeks ago, the live-action remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book was released in theaters - and with it, the remake of King Louie, a character not present in the original stories, invented for the animated film.  The original King Louie was an orangutan, but orangutans don’t live in India, so the remake recast him as a late-surviving Gigantopithecus (voiced by no less than Christopher Walken).

Walken’s portrayal of King Louie was one of the best parts of the movie - equal parts hilarious and terrifying.  But what was the real Gigantopithecus like?

(Image source)

Gigantopithecus was the largest species of ape that ever lived.  It’s believed to have stood ten feet tall and weighed over 1,000 pounds.  I say “believed” because it’s known only from jaws and teeth; no other remains of Gigantopithecus have yet been found.  Based on the structure of its jaws, as well as the fact that it lived in Southeast Asia, it’s believed to have been related to orangutans, but its massive size and ground-dwelling lifestyle were more similar to gorillas.  As a result, it’s usually reconstructed as a sort of “mix” of the two animals.

Gigantopithecus’s jawbones are notable for widening in the back, more like human jawbones than those of apes.  The human jawbone widens in order to accommodate the windpipe and allow the skull to sit atop a vertical spinal column.  Some scientists have claimed that this implies bipedalism in Gigantopithecus.  However, a bipedal posture would have put massive stress on the animal’s hind legs, and a quadrupedal posture would have allowed its weight to be more evenly distributed.  (This doesn’t preclude Gigantopithecus from having been able to stand up for short periods, however.)

(Image by Julio Lacerda)

Gigantopithecus lived in Southeast Asia from 9 million to 100,000 years ago, making it a contemporary of several hominid species and primitive humans.  It was possibly hunted by Homo erectus, which lived in the same areas as it did.  Some cryptozoologists have claimed that human run-ins with Gigantopithecus are the basis of the Bigfoot legend, or even that Gigantopithecus survives today and is responsible for Bigfoot sightings.  Needless to say, this is probably not true; Gigantopithecus is fairly definitively extinct.

The cause of its demise is believed to have been the decline of forests and the expansion of grasslands during the Pleistocene period.  Gigantopithecus was a fruit and nut-eater, unable to survive on grass, and it died out when its food sources were depleted.