If ever there was a King Kong-like creature, it would have been Gigantopithecus — an ape that stood three meters high and weighed between 200 and 500 kilograms. Its massive size certainly gives it the title of being the largest primate that has walked on Earth. However, its imposing physique was not enough to keep him alive. Gigantopithecus disappeared without a trace approximately 100,000 years ago due to reasons that are currently being discussed by scientists around the world.
As reported by Phys.org, a team of scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Tübingen and from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt believe they have found the explanation behind Gigantopithecus’ extinction. As published in the journal Quaternary International, the extinction of the “great ape” was mainly because it was not able to adapt to environmental changes.
Gigantopithecus was discovered in 1935 when a Dutch paleontologist found an unusually large molar, a tooth similar to the large flat ones that you have towards the back of your mouth, in a Chinese apothecary shop in Hong Kong. According to Prehistoric Wildlife, the paleontologist later discovered that the tooth did not come from a mythical creature — as some had thought — instead study revealed it to have come from some kind of gigantic ape.
It is well documented that Gigantopithecus was a huge animal, but beyond this, there are many uncertainties about this ancestor of the orangutan. Scientists have varying estimates on its size and there are several theories regarding its diet. Some scientists believe that the animal was exclusively vegetarian, while some believe that it ate meat and others believe its diet was strictly limited to bamboo.
The remains of Gigantopithecus that are available today are limited to four lower jaws and some teeth, which does not provide too much information to researchers.
“Unfortunately, there are very few fossil finds of Gigantopithecus – only a few large teeth and bones from the lower mandible are known,” Professor Hervé Bocherens of HEP at the University of Tübingen explained. “But now, we are able to shed a little light on the obscure history of this primate.”
Professor Bocherens went on to say that the remains are clearly insufficient to determine whether the animal was bipedal or quadruped or even imagine its proportions. This response comes after an analysis of fossil teeth showed that Gigantopithecus was restricted to forest habitats.
Researchers believe that the largest primate that ever lived roamed the then semi-tropical forests of Southeast Asia and southern China for thousands of years. The results of the study led Hervé to conclude that Gigantopithecus lived mostly alone in the woods, where he found his food, although it was probably too heavy to climb trees.
“In order to be able to comprehend the evolutionary history of primates, it is important to take a look at their diet,” Bocherens said. “Our results also contribute to a better understanding of the reasons that led to the giant ape’s extinction. Relatives of the giant ape, such as the recent orangutan, have been able to survive despite their specialization on a certain habitat. However, orangutans have a slow metabolism and are able to survive on limited food.”
Previously, there were no clues to the reasons for Gigantopithecus’ extinction 100,000 years ago. However, after conducting a series of studies on changes in carbon isotopes in the enamel of the teeth of the animal found in Thailand and China, an international team of scientists concluded that the ape could not change his diet when the fruits which he fed on disappeared with the arrival of the Ice Age.
“Due to its size, Gigantopithecus presumably depended on a large amount of food. When during the Pleistocene era more and more forested areas turned into savanna landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply for the giant ape,” Bocherens concluded.
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