Gorillas are some of our closest living relatives, but when it comes to physical strength, they put us to shame. So how strong is a gorilla anyway, and how do we stack up?
Gorillas are very strong and can lift up to ten times their weight. That’s an average gorilla without any specific training. The average human can’t even lift their own body weight.
In this article, we’ll discuss how strong gorillas are, what makes them so strong, and pit them against a few different animals to see how they stack up in a fight.
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What Is A Gorilla?
Gorillas are the largest of the great apes and the largest primate currently living. They share around 98.3% of their genetic code with modern humans, making them very close relatives to us.
Most gorillas have very human-like features. We share similar hands, feet, and even faces. Their bodies are covered in hair, but their faces are bald.
You’ll find four species of gorillas living today. All of them are native to different regions of Africa, but they aren’t widespread. Populations of gorillas are found in only a few African countries, including:
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Republic of Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
Gorillas live in forests and jungles in family groups. Usually, a group of gorillas will number between five and ten. Sometimes, the group can number up to fifty.
They’re led by an older, dominant male that will be in charge of the group for years. This alpha male is what we refer to as a silverback gorilla.
Don’t let their massive size and strength fool you, though. Gorillas are generally very gentle. They won’t often bother anyone unless they feel threatened or are provoked. Keeping a respectful distance is important if you’re ever in their presence, but they aren’t likely to attack.
Since gorillas are genetically very close to us, it makes sense that they are similar to us.
Gorillas are very intelligent and can feel a wide range of emotions. It’s even possible for gorillas to learn sign language and communicate directly with us!
They can even remember and relay stories from their past using their language skills. It’s generally accepted their language capacity is on par with young human children.
How Strong Are Gorillas?
The general consensus for how much a gorilla can lift is nine or ten times its body weight. You’ll probably be able to find statistics saying it’s much less or much more. Claims can vary from four times their body weight to twenty-seven times their body weight.
Overall, the most consistent statistic sits around ten times their body weight, which is also the most reasonable estimate.
One thing to remember about how much gorillas can lift is that gorillas don’t train to lift weights. We don’t have bodybuilder gorillas pumping iron to reach their absolute peak, and they aren’t out there taking steroids.
It’s entirely possible that a gorilla could exceed these limits, though we may never know for sure.
Using the most common statistic at ten times their body weight, an average adult male gorilla weighing 400 lb (181 kg) would be able to lift 4,000 lb (1,810 kg)! This number can balloon even higher, with the largest adult males weighing up to 800 pounds (362 kg).
In theory, these massive males could lift 8,000 pounds (3,620 kg)!
From what I’ve been able to find, different species of gorillas have the same strength capabilities. The difference comes in with the size of the gorilla in question.
For these calculations, we’ll use the weight of average adult males and the statistic for gorillas lifting ten times their body weight.
Cross River Gorilla
- Weight: 310 to 440 pounds (141 to 200 kg)
- Potential Strength: 3,100 to 4,400 pounds (1,410 to 2,000 kg)
- Weight: 265 to 461 pounds (120 to 210 kg)
- Potential Strength: 2,650 to 4,610 pounds (1,200 to 2,000 kg)
Western Lowland Gorilla
- Weight: 310 to 440 pounds (141 to 200 kg)
- Potential Strength: 3,100 to 4,400 pounds (1,140 to 2,000 kg)
Eastern Lowland Gorilla
- Weight: 361 to 461 pounds (164 to 210 kg)
- Potential Strength: 3,610 to 4,610 pounds (1,640 to 2,100 kg)
To put this kind of power into perspective, here’s an example. A gorilla could effortlessly flip over a full-size car. In theory, they could even lift them over their heads, though they usually wouldn’t have a reason to.
Keep in mind that these figures are very much theoretical. What we do know for sure is that gorillas can lift 1,800 to 2,000 pounds (800 to 900 kg). Going beyond that is strictly speculation.
But pure lifting power isn’t the only way to measure a gorilla’s strength. How strong is a punch from a gorilla?
To start, gorillas don’t punch the way humans do. Their arms are structured differently. Instead, they swing their arms and smash them into things.
It’s generally assumed that a gorilla can crush a human skull with one arm smash. This equals somewhere between 1,300 and 2,700 pounds of force.
Oh, and we aren’t going to stop at lifting power or punching. Gorillas also have one of the strongest bite forces on the planet.
When looking at total bite force power, gorillas rank sixth out of all animals in the world at a staggering 1,300 pounds per square inch (PSI).
Comparatively, humans have a bite force of around 120-160 PSI.
Are Gorillas Stronger Than Humans?
To put it simply, yeah. Gorillas are WAY stronger than humans.
An average adult human can lift 0.87 times their body weight. For an average adult weighing 180 pounds (about 80 kg), this only equals around 150 pounds (68 kilograms).
The difference between an average adult human and a gorilla is staggering. So why not look at one of the strongest humans possible for a more fair comparison?
Brian Shaw is a professional strongman who won the World’s Strongest Man competition in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2016. Standing at six-foot-eight and weighing anywhere from 385–440 lb (175–200 kg), surely this is a fairer comparison.
His heaviest lift was a deadlift, where he was able to move 1,031 lb (467.7 kg) off the ground. It’s a ridiculous amount of weight, totaling 2.3 times his body weight at his heaviest.
Even in an extreme case like this, with the human dedicating their life to being strong, it isn’t enough. An average gorilla can still lift nearly four times as much.
But with such a difference in strength, what makes gorillas so strong?
What Makes Gorillas So Strong?
Gorillas are much stronger than humans. So much stronger than it isn’t close, even if you compare a relatively weak gorilla to the strongest weightlifters. But what makes these primates so strong?
A big factor in how strong gorillas are is their body size. As the largest living primate, it makes sense that gorillas would be physically capable of exerting more force than other primates.
Gorillas also tend to be quadrupedal. That means they walk on four limbs instead of two like bipedal humans.
Using their arms to walk led to gorillas having stronger joints capable of bearing weight. It also gave them very muscular legs, capable of pushing off with a lot of force and holding up a lot of weight.
Perhaps the defining factor of a gorilla’s strength is the animal’s muscle mass.
Muscle mass is essentially how dense and heavy a muscle fiber is in an organism. Compared to humans, a gorilla’s muscle fibers weigh four times as much.
But muscle mass isn’t the only thing that affects strength. Bone strength is vital for lifting more weight because the bones are the body’s support system.
Gorillas’ bones are around three times as thick as humans’. Their bones are also much more calcified than ours. Calcified bones mean there is more calcium in the bones, making them much harder, denser, and stronger.
All of these things combined make gorillas the powerhouses they are.
What Do Gorillas Eat To Get So Strong?
Gorillas don’t have access to protein powder, pre-workout, or meal prepping. So what do they eat to get so strong?
It might surprise you, but gorillas are mostly herbivores. Young tree shoots, bamboo, fruits, and leaves make up most of an average gorilla’s diet. Western lowland gorillas are known to eat termites and ants.
A lot of the leaves they eat are high in protein. This nutrient is vital for muscle growth and allows gorillas to build strong muscles.
Titus, The Gorilla King
Titus was a gorilla living in Rwanda that gained notoriety because of how closely his life was observed. He was born in 1974 in Rwanda and was the star of a documentary that aired on the PBS network.
Titus’ father was the silverback of his group but was killed by poachers when Titus was around five years old. Another gorilla who had recently joined attempted to take over leadership but was rejected. All the female gorillas left. Titus and a few other males were left to form a bachelor group.
Eventually, a few females joined, and his friend took over the dominant role. Beetsme, the new silverback, drove off all the males except for Titus.
For a time, Titus was a subordinate. Secretly, he mated with females in the group and sired children.
Titus came into his own as he grew, usurping his friend. Over time, he led the largest known troop of gorillas and sired more children than any other gorilla on record.
Titus struggled with other gorillas for dominance during his time. He was eventually beaten by one of his sons, splintering the group. Titus died of natural illnesses in 2009.
If the above synopsis reads a bit like a soap opera, it’s because that’s exactly what it was like. The drama and events of Titus’ life were fascinating and well-documented.
You can watch the entirety of the show online for free. It’s a great insight into how gorillas live their lives.
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Who Wins In A Fight: Grizzly Bear Versus Silverback Gorilla
This question took the internet by storm in the last couple of years. Dudes debated this over beers and in group chats, judging their friends based on their choices.
One of the catalysts for the debate was a short 2017 segment on the Joe Rogan experience that you can watch here.
Some will disagree with his section, as it will be very one-sided… just like the fight between a grizzly bear and a gorilla.
To be clear, we will look at interior grizzlies, not coastal brown bears. So don’t come at me with the “actually, grizzly bears can weigh 2,000 pounds.” No, that’s brown and Kodiak bears, both separate species.
That may make it a bit fairer, but I doubt it. Anyway, we’ll be going with the largest grizzly bears we know about and full-grown silverback gorillas. If you want a very detailed breakdown of the fight with great anecdotes, watch this video.
Let’s get into the tale of the tape:
- 1,200 pounds (550 kg)
- Bite Force: 1,200 psi
- Thick and loose skin
- Running speed: 34 mph (55 kilometers per hour)
- Fight Style: Rush down and maul
- Stamina: Can do this all day like Captain America
- Killing instinct: Alpha predator
- Durability: Massive, hard to cut
- Advantage: Sharp claws and huge paws
- Intelligence: Smart but can’t strategize in theory
- 500 pounds (226 kg)
- Bite force: 1,300 psi
- Taunt skin, easily torn
- Running speed: 25 mph (40 kilometers per hour)
- Fight style: Tries to grapple and bite, rarely strike
- Stamina: Amazing, can fight quite a while
- Killing instinct: none, it’s an herbivore. Would rather fight and maul
- Durability: Good except for the skin
- Advantage: It has thumbs
- Intelligence: On par with four to five-year-old humans
Leopards often take out gorillas in straight-up fights. They’re much lighter and weaker than grizzly bears. This happens quite often, and gorillas never win. Like, at all. Sometimes they can fight to a draw with the leopard, but only one case is known of a gorilla killing a leopard, and the gorilla died too.
Siberian tigers can best Russian brown bears. Siberian tigers usually kill smaller bears, almost only attacking them while hibernating in their den. Brown bears don’t always lose the way gorillas do, though.
Gorillas are easily cut because they lack a sheet of muscle under their skin that many predators have. Grizzlies would have no issue cutting them, while a gorilla’s teeth would be hard-pressed to open up a grizzly.
Bears regularly ragdoll 1,500 pounds (226 kg) of animals like elk and moose. They also have been documented to swat full-grown moose once in the head and drop them.
Look, this isn’t a hard conclusion to reach. Gorillas are ridiculously strong animals, especially for their size. But, when it comes to a fight with a grizzly, they don’t stand a chance.
The gorilla has one trick that it uses, which is to bite. But its bite force is basically a draw with grizzlies.
Yes, they have thumbs, but gorillas are noted for having trouble grasping things. Grappling a grizzly isn’t happening. They also don’t use their intelligence to strategize during a fight. Honestly, I don’t think it would make a difference here.
Grizzly bears are stronger, faster, and much bigger than gorillas. In a fight, they would handily kill even the largest silverback gorillas.
Who Would Win Between a Tiger and a Gorilla?
A gorilla-versus-tiger fight would certainly be interesting.
Tigers are the largest and strongest of the big cats, while gorillas are the largest of the apes.
Strength-wise, they’re probably fairly even. Both have large fangs and incredibly powerful bites. In general, the fight could go either way. There are three scenarios for the fight that would mostly determine the outcome.
Remember that these animals live on different continents, which is entirely based on opinion.
Scenario One: The Tiger Strikes First
Tigers are ambush predators and use stealth to take down prey quickly. They can leap huge distances and kill quickly. A tiger kills via two methods:
- Suffocating prey after clamping down on their throats
- Biting at the base of the neck to sever the spine
If the tiger stalked and leaped onto a gorilla, the element of surprise would probably let it win the fight quickly.
Scenario Two: The Gorilla Strikes First
Like with the first scenario, a gorilla who gets the jump on a tiger could probably do lethal damage before the tiger could respond. Gorillas can hit extremely hard. While they probably couldn’t crush a tiger’s skull in a single blow, they could break a leg.
If a gorilla could use that surprise to break a limb, it may be able to eke out an advantage. In this scenario, a gorilla stands a fighting chance but probably still loses anyways.
Scenario Three: Both Start On Even Terms
In the last two, the winner was determined by the element of surprise. But what if neither had that on their side?
Both animals are incredibly strong. The tiger’s claws could inflict serious damage, while the gorilla lacks these claws. That being said, gorillas will be easily shredded by a tiger’s claws because their skin is so tight.
Tigers also often outweigh gorillas and are actually predators, meaning they have a killer instinct and are used to fighting.
Overall, gorillas would probably get taken out by tigers fairly easily. It’s generous to give them the edge in the second scenario.
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Are humans the weakest ape?
Pound for pound, humans are definitely the weakest apes.
Muscle fibers come in two varieties, fast-twitch and slow-twitch. The fast twitch muscles act faster (obviously) and exert more force in less time.
Human muscles are composed of around 50% slow-twitch muscle fibers. They’re less capable of exerting force and more capable of endurance.
Most ape species have muscles with more fast-twitch fibers than humans. Even monkeys are stronger than humans pound for pound since their muscles are better at pulling and jumping.
Can a human beat a gorilla in strength?
Humans stand no chance in a hand-to-hand fight with a gorilla. No amount of eye-poking or below-the-belt shots would change anything. Even taking the strongest human and a below-average gorilla into consideration, it isn’t a close fight.
Humans have the major advantage of making up for their physical shortcomings with tools and technology. Those things are what have separated us from the natural food chain.