What Do Gorillas Eat? How Do These Apes Survive In The Wild?

Oluniyi Akande
Feb 29, 2024 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Nov 24, 2021
A male silverback mountain gorilla.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.5 Min

Gorillas are the closest living relatives to humans, after chimpanzees and bonobos, but sadly the largest of the primate species - mountain gorillas - are also the most endangered in the world.

Isn't it necessary to know about these gentle giants with whom we share about 98% of our DNA? Yes, as research on a western lowland gorilla called Kamilah proved.

These highly intelligent gorillas are said to be gentle giants. How do they survive the battlefield that is 'the wild'? What do they eat?

No need to ponder, this article will take you on a wild ride where you can get to know everything about gorillas. For starters, gorillas branch into two species: the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla. The eastern gorilla species is further subdivided into two species: the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. The western gorilla species is subdivided into the western lowland gorilla and the cross river gorilla. Shall we dive into it then?

After reading about the diet of adult gorillas and baby gorillas such as the cross-river gorilla and the mountain gorilla, also check out interesting facts about why do gorillas beat their chest and are gorillas omnivores.

Why do gorillas eat cardboard?

There are dozens of 'gorilla eating cardboard' videos on the internet. Why do gorillas eat cardboard? Gorillas are primarily herbivores who love snacking all day! However, each species has its own form of diet.

An adult male gorilla can eat up to 40 lb (18.1 kg) of vegetation a day, which is about 10% of its total body weight. They spend about a quarter of a day eating foliage. The majority of their diet usually consists of leaves, shoots, and stems, occasionally fruits, and small animals such as grubs, caterpillars, snails, termites, and ants.

The western lowland gorilla diet has a much higher proportion of fruit than diet of other gorillas. The western lowland gorilla food intake includes at least 97 varieties of plant species, of which almost two-thirds are fruit. The eastern lowland gorilla is a step ahead as it consumes 104 plant species in its lifetime.

Apart from this, gorillas tend to eat tree bark for sodium. They also have eating habits that include consuming cardboard and wood chips. No need to get unnerved, they do need a lot of fiber. Hence, gorillas eat cardboard and branches that are rich in fiber.

How do gorillas eat bananas in Cameroon?

A common misconception regarding gorillas is that they are placed under the category of monkeys. Gorillas are not monkeys! They are one of the five great apes.

Bananas are not native to tropical forests where primates live. Western gorillas live on the western side of the Congo River, while eastern gorillas live on the eastern side. Mountain gorillas live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. But cross river gorillas exist only in a small region in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Basically, it is a matter of availability rather than particular gorilla behavior. If given a chance, they would definitely devour bananas. Gorillas in Cameroon are cross river gorillas, and they do not have the opportunity to eat bananas as there aren't any there. Eastern lowland gorillas are also known as Grauer’s gorillas and are distinguished by of their stocky body, large hands, and short muzzle. Mountain gorillas eat numerous varieties of green plants and only about three types of fruits because there are hardly any juicy fruits available in central Africa and east Africa.

Why do gorillas eat their snot?

Yes, that sounds gross, but we cannot fault our gentle giants, when in fact, humans do it all the time. There is a GIF where a gorilla picks his nose and eats it while his friend gorilla gives him a nasty side-eye.

Why do gorillas eat the stuff from their nose? Wasn't it enough that they picked their nose? Was it necessary to eat the snot too? Is it their quirk or, is there a reason behind this? In a way, it is a quirk of animals but, there is a 'hygiene hypothesis' saying that early exposure to germs and certain infections could boost the development of the immune system. Gorillas have an ability to use sticks to calibrate the depth of water, to use bamboo as ladders to help baby gorillas climb and, they even use sticks nowadays to eat ants instead of picking them up with their hand. Maybe they know what they are doing?

Portrait of gorilla.

What do gorillas eat in the wild?

When standing on hind legs, adult male gorillas are as tall as a human. Adult male gorillas weigh up to 440 lb (220 kg). Baby gorillas are called infants, just like baby humans, and their lifespan is calculated to be around 35-40 years.

Mature male gorillas are known as silverbacks. This is because of the white hair that grows on their back when they have attained 14 years of age.

Gorillas are said to reach adulthood between 7-10 years of age. Young males called blackbacks either wander alone to become solitary silverbacks or find a mate and start a gorilla family of their own. Gorillas live as a family, the number varying from troop to troop. The troop is led by a dominant adult male, a silverback, who sustains the position of leader for many years. The silverback and his females form a strong bond constituting a stable life.

These gorilla groups are called troops or bands. Even though gorillas are gentle creatures, silverbacks are in charge of ensuring the troop’s safety and will fight to death to protect their troop. They also lead the troop to different places for food.

What do gorillas eat in the wild? Gorillas are surrounded by food in the wild with an abundance of leaves, stems, branches, and insects. They live in a paradise of food! With their long pointed canines, gorillas spend their day chewing on stems and eating juicy fruits. That raises the question 'if gorillas are gentle giants, how do they survive in the wild?'

Gorillas are patient creatures as their strength is pegged at around 5-10 times stronger than that of an average human. A silverback gorilla's strength is immense. Gorillas have the power to tear down banana trees in an effortless manner. The bite force of adult gorillas has been estimated at around 1,300 psi, which is twice the bite force of an adult lion. This brute force allows them to sometimes escape captivity by bending iron bars.

Gorillas have proved to be one of the biggest and strongest primates but they remain prey to some animals, especially leopards. Leopards and crocodiles are the only animals in central Africa and east Africa that can kill an adult gorilla. Leopards rarely try to eat adult male gorillas except for the western lowland gorilla as they are smaller than other subspecies.

The silverback tries the tactic of charging at the danger with a big sneer, making big groaning noises and chest-beating to scare the danger away. Gorillas will try to use sharp sticks and wield them at the predator as they run for refuge. That is how mountain gorillas defend themselves from danger.

An adult mountain gorilla can eat up to 27 kg (60 lb) of food in a day. Do gorillas eat meat? Most gorillas such as the eastern lowland gorilla eat particular plant materials in the wild based on their habitat and animal matter forms only a minuscule percentage of what they eat.

What do gorillas eat in the rainforest?

In the rainforest, mountain gorillas eat seeds, stems, green leaves, tree barks, bamboo, and numerous other plant species. Some gorilla species feed on small animals like termites, snails, lizards, and rodents when food is not readily available.

Just like humans, gorillas like to be comfortable at night. Gorillas tend to build nests to sleep in to be comfy at night. Gorillas sleep longer than humans, about 12 hours. We only sleep about only eight hours. They build nests both on the ground and in trees and these nests are made of leaves and branches. Even if the troop has only traveled a short distance from their previous nest, mountain gorillas still construct a new nest rather than going back to their old one. Gorillas take branches from trees and bushes and layer them to create a nest. Adult female gorillas prefer to sleep in tree nests to protect their baby gorilla while silverbacks rarely do.

We must brush up on Congo gorillas while we are on the subject of gorillas. Did you know there were less than 900 mountain gorillas living in this world? Now the DR Congo's Virunga National Park has undertaken the tiring job of protecting gorillas. The congo gorilla is just another name for a western lowland gorilla. A bleak outlook for the subspecies has now changed into a brightened one due to conservation endeavors.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for what do gorillas eat, then take a look at how long do gorillas live or how long do gorillas live.

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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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