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Apes: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Welcome to the fascinating world of apes, a group of primates that share a lot with us humans, including intelligence, expressive faces, and the ability to use tools.

This group includes some of our closest relatives like chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. In this comprehensive article, we will journey through the lives of these amazing creatures, delving into their biology, behavior, habitat, and much more.

Stay tuned as we explore the world of these intelligent and complex creatures, offering insights into their daily life, survival strategies, and the challenges they face in an ever-changing world. We also have some fun facts and frequently asked questions towards the end of the article. Let’s begin this insightful journey.

Apes at a Glance


Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Genera:Pongo, Gorilla, Pan, Homo

Essential Information

Average Size:Varies by species, from 3.3 feet (Chimpanzees) to 5.6 feet (Gorillas) standing height.
Average Weight:Again varies by species, from 70 to 130 pounds (Chimpanzees) to 400 to 430 pounds (Male Gorillas).
Average Lifespan:Typically between 35-60 years, though some have been known to live longer in captivity.
Geographical Range:Africa and Southeast Asia.
Conservation Status:Varies by species, from endangered (Orangutans) to critically endangered (Gorillas and Bonobos).

Species and Subspecies

The term “ape” is used to describe a collection of primates that are closely related to humans. They fall under the family Hominidae, or great apes, and include four main genera:

  • Chimpanzees (Pan): This includes the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus). These two species are more similar to humans than to gorillas or orangutans.
  • Gorillas (Gorilla): Two species exist, the eastern (Gorilla beringei) and the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). Each species is further divided into two subspecies.
  • Orangutans (Pongo): There are three species of orangutans: the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), and the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).
  • Humans (Homo): Currently, the only living species in this genus is Homo sapiens, us.

These species all have key differences, particularly in terms of size, social structure, habitat, and behavior.

Gorilla face


Apes’ physical appearances vary greatly between species. Generally, they have a large brain compared to body size, no tail, and a broad chest. Their arms are longer than their legs, and they have opposable thumbs and big toes, allowing them to grasp objects.

Chimpanzees and bonobos are smaller, with a height of about 3.3 to 4 feet and a weight of 70 to 130 pounds. Gorillas are the largest living primates, with males standing up to 5.6 feet tall in the wild and weighing between 400 and 430 pounds. Orangutans stand about 4.3 to 4.6 feet tall and weigh between 73 and 180 pounds.

Sexual dimorphism is common among apes, with males typically being larger and heavier than females. Male gorillas, in particular, are significantly larger than females and are known for their silver-colored backs when they reach maturity.

Habitat and Distribution

Apes are primarily located in Africa and Southeast Asia. Chimpanzees and gorillas inhabit the tropical forests of central and west Africa, while orangutans are found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

The habitats of apes vary widely and depend on the species. Chimpanzees, for example, can be found in a range of habitats including tropical rainforests, woodland, savannah, and even mountainous regions. Gorillas also inhabit a range of environments from lowland swamps to montane forests. Orangutans are strictly arboreal and spend most of their life in the rainforest canopy.

In these habitats, apes have a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance. They are often considered keystone species due to their impact on the environment and influence on other organisms within their ecosystem. For instance, through their diet and behavior, apes aid in seed dispersal, which helps to maintain forest diversity.



Apes are known for their high intelligence and complex behavior. They are diurnal, spending the daylight hours foraging for food, playing, and socializing. The nights are usually spent sleeping in nests they build in trees, except for ground-dwelling gorillas, which make their nests on the ground.

Social structures vary among the species. Gorillas live in groups known as troops, consisting of one dominant male, multiple females, and their offspring. Chimpanzees live in large, fluid social groups where individuals form temporary parties of varying size and composition. Orangutans are more solitary, with males and females generally coming together only to mate.

Apes have a wide range of vocal and physical means of communication. For example, they use facial expressions, gestures, and sounds to convey different messages. They also engage in grooming behavior, which helps strengthen social bonds.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Apes are generally omnivorous, eating a variety of fruits, leaves, insects, and small animals. However, the diet can vary significantly between species and even within species. Chimpanzees are known to hunt for meat, including small monkeys, and share their kill with others in their group. Gorillas have a predominantly herbivorous diet, consuming fruits, leaves, and stems, but they also eat small insects and larvae. Orangutans mostly eat fruit, along with leaves, bark, and insects.

Apes have unique feeding behaviors. For instance, they use their hands to gather food and use tools to acquire hard-to-reach foods. Chimpanzees are famously known for using sticks to extract termites from their mounds, demonstrating complex problem-solving skills.


Apes have few natural predators, but they can be vulnerable to large cats, crocodiles, pythons, and birds of prey. For example, chimpanzees can fall prey to leopards or pythons. Human activities pose the most significant threat, including habitat destruction, hunting, and the illegal pet trade.

Infant apes are more vulnerable to predation and can be targeted by other large primates. Defensive strategies against predators include living in groups, using alarm calls, and, in the case of chimpanzees, using tools as weapons.

Despite these threats, apes are adept at avoiding predators, with their most significant threat being habitat loss caused by human activity.

Orangutan face

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The reproduction process in apes is notably complex, with various rituals and behaviors. Generally, there’s no specific breeding season, and females usually give birth to one offspring at a time. The gestation period varies by species but ranges from about eight months in gibbons to nearly nine months in gorillas, similar to humans.

Apes display significant parental care, with infants being dependent on their mothers for several years. Mothers carry, nurse, and protect their young, teaching them the necessary skills for survival. In some species, like gorillas, older siblings, especially females, also participate in caring for the younger ones.

Maturation is slow, with apes reaching sexual maturity between 7-13 years of age depending on the species. The long childhood is thought to be related to the complex social behaviors and intelligence of these animals, allowing ample time for learning.

Conservation and Threats

As of now, all species of apes are under some level of threat, with most being listed as endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This situation is mainly due to habitat destruction caused by deforestation, palm oil plantations, and human encroachment. Hunting for bushmeat and the illegal pet trade also pose severe threats.

Efforts to conserve these remarkable creatures include the establishment of protected reserves, legal enforcement against hunting and trading, and rehabilitation and reintroduction programs for orphaned and injured individuals. Several international organizations and local communities are working together to conserve their habitats and ensure the survival of the various species of apes.

Educational programs and ecotourism also play a role in conservation by increasing awareness of these animals’ plight and generating revenue to support conservation efforts. Despite these efforts, more work needs to be done to ensure the survival of these intelligent and complex creatures.

Fun Facts

  1. Social Learning: Apes are well known for their intelligence and ability to learn by observation. For instance, they have been observed using tools, like sticks to collect termites or rocks to crack nuts, skills they learn from watching other members of their group.
  2. Non-verbal Communication: Apes communicate extensively through non-verbal cues. This includes a wide range of facial expressions, body postures, and gestures. They also use vocalizations like grunts, screams, and hoots.
  3. Kin Recognition: Some ape species, like orangutans, can recognize their own reflections, demonstrating self-awareness. Many also show the ability to remember and recognize group members even after long periods of separation.
  4. Long Childhood: Apes have one of the longest childhoods of any animal, second only to humans. This extended period allows young apes time to learn the many skills they need to survive in their complex social groups.
  5. Bonobo Diplomacy: Bonobos, a type of ape, are known for their peaceful societies, where conflicts are often resolved through grooming, sharing, or sexual behaviors rather than aggression.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest type of ape?

The biggest type of ape is the Eastern Gorilla, with males often weighing more than 400 pounds and standing up to 5.6 feet tall when on their hind legs.

Do all apes swing from trees?

Not all apes swing from trees. While gibbons and orangutans are known for their brachiation (swinging from branch to branch), gorillas and chimpanzees spend more time on the ground and are more likely to climb than swing.

Are apes aggressive?

While some ape species can be aggressive, particularly when threatened, many, like bonobos and orangutans, are generally peaceful. Apes have complex social structures, and they often resolve conflicts through posturing and displays rather than physical aggression.

How smart are apes?

Apes are highly intelligent and display a range of cognitive abilities including problem-solving, tool use, planning for the future, and some have even been taught sign language.

Do apes recognize humans?

Yes, apes have shown the ability to recognize individual humans, particularly those they interact with regularly like caregivers or researchers. This ability to recognize and remember individuals extends to their own species as well.

Why are apes endangered?

Apes are primarily endangered due to habitat loss from deforestation and human development. They’re also threatened by hunting for bushmeat and the illegal pet trade. Diseases transmitted by humans, like Ebola and respiratory infections, have also had a significant impact on ape populations.

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