Do Gorillas Have Tails?

Most creatures in the animal kingdom have tails, but we humans do not. So you may be wondering if our distant cousins, gorillas, have tails. And if not, why are they missing tails? 

Do gorillas have tails? Gorillas do not actually have tails. Gorillas are part of the “great ape” family. In this family, there are also humans, chimps, and orangutans, and all of these animals, like gorillas, do not have tails. Scientists have debated why exactly gorillas, and the other members of the Hominoidea family, lost their tails, and they’ve not been able to come up with a concrete answer.

The more scientific name for the great ape family is Hominoidea. Originally, humans were the only members of Hominoidea, while the other great apes were in the group Hominidae, but over the past couple of decades, the two groups came together because scientists discovered how closely related all of these creatures are. In fact, humans and gorillas share about 98% of their DNA, making gorillas one of our closest living relatives. 

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All of the members in the Hominoidea family share the same ancestor– the Old World Monkey. Baboons and mandrills are members of the Old World Monkey family (scientifically known as “Cercopithecidae”) and while they kept their tails, all of the animals in the Hominoidea family lost their tails. 

There are still a lot of theories surrounding this topic though. Scientists believe that around 25 million years ago, gorillas lost their tails. Some scientists believe that the loss of a tail has to do with their more vertical posture or the fact that without a tail, more heat can be conserved.  

Other scientists believe that it is because gorillas evolved to spend more time on the ground and to use their arms to swing from the trees, as opposed to swinging with their tails. Plus, since gorillas are so large, they would not be able to swing from tree to tree with their tail anyway. So since the tail did not serve the gorillas any purpose, they simply lost them. 

Even though gorillas do not have tails, they still have tailbones like us. This internal tailbone is called the coccyx.  

Let’s cover some related questions about gorillas…

What do gorillas eat?  

For the most part, gorillas are vegetarians. They mostly eat stems, bamboo, and fruit, but some gorillas also like to eat termites and ants. And gorillas eat a lot! Grown male gorillas will eat about 40 pounds of food every day. In zoos and other places where gorillas are cared for by humans, gorillas will likely be fed different varieties of fruit and vegetables as well as leaves from ficus and banana trees. 

How old can gorillas live to be? 

In the wild, gorillas usually live to be around 35 years old, but in captivity, gorillas can live more than 50 years. The oldest gorilla to ever be recorded is named Fatou, who lives in the Berlin Zoo in Germany. It is estimated that Fatou was born in 1957 in the wild and she is still alive today- she is 63 years old! The oldest living gorilla who was born in captivity was named Colo, who was born in the Columbus Zoo in Ohio in 1956. Sadly, Colo died in 2017 at the age of 60. 

Do gorillas like to play? 

Just like humans, gorillas love to play. Playing is most often seen in infant and juvenile gorillas and in most gorilla groups, there are multiple young gorillas, so these youngsters can have fun playing together. Gorillas can play for long times and in the wild, they have been observed playing by swinging from branches, running around trees, rolling down hills, spinning, wrestling one another, and tickling each other. Adult gorillas will join in and play with the younger gorillas sometimes too! 

What threats are there to gorillas? 

Gorillas are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Gorillas reproduce slowly – like humans, they usually only have one baby at a time and they raise the baby for a few years before having another one. Since their reproduction rate is so slow, this makes their population even more vulnerable. The biggest threat to gorillas is poaching, but they also face risk from diseases, such as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, which scientists estimate killed about a third of the wild gorilla population in 2003.