You’re probably familiar with the sight of a gorilla standing on its back legs and pounding out an alternating drum-like sound on their chest. Have you ever wondered about this behavior? Why do gorillas beat their chest? Do only the males do it, or do females beat their chest as well? What about baby gorillas? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions.
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All of the Reasons Why Male Gorillas Beat Their Chest
Most of the time, the male gorillas are the ones beating their chests. There may be a variety of reasons they do this.
In this section, we’ll explore some of these reasons.
1. To Communicate Their Body Size
Gorillas are known for being large, but, as with humans, some grow larger than others. Male gorillas, in particular, can grow to be nearly 6 feet tall and weigh up to 500 pounds.
Competition is high between male gorillas; they compete for females as well as territory. The larger males tend to be the most dominant, which is to say, they have the greatest success when it comes to mating and becoming the leader of a gorilla troop.
With that in mind, males often beat on their chest to compare body sizes. Larger gorillas produce a deeper, more resonant sound, while the sounds produced by smaller males have higher frequencies.
This enables larger males to establish their dominance, and it allows smaller males to understand how they measure up in relation to the other males in the area.
So, chest-pounding is used as a way of communicating body size between males.
2. To Prevent a Fight
Because there is so much competition between male gorillas, there is at least the potential that fights will break out from time to time.
That said, gorillas are mostly gentle, docile creatures; they don’t necessarily like to fight. When a male is trespassing on another male’s territory or they are competing for dominance, they may exchange chest beats as a means of warning each other.
The chest beats communicate each male’s physical capabilities to the other. A deep, resonant pounding warns, “Don’t mess with me; you’re probably going to get hurt.”
Meanwhile, a more high-pitched sound may signal to a large male that the contender provides no threat and it isn’t worth picking a fight.
So, as this clever New York Times article states, gorillas “beat their chest so they don’t have to beat your butt.” They do it to avoid a fight, rather than to provoke one as people often assume.
3. To Attract Females
Gorillas tend to gather in social groups of several females and one dominant male. The non-dominant males are more solitary and rarely have a chance to mate with any females in the area.
So, as you might imagine, these males often attempt to challenge the dominant males. The females are most likely to mate with the largest, most dominant males in their region.
These males will pound on their chest to compete for the attention of the females. If a particular female likes the sounds produced by the challenger more than that of the dominant male, she will mate with the challenger.
4. To Identify Themselves
Each gorilla appears to have his own “chest-pounding style.” The number and speed of the beats, as well as the sound produced, varies somewhat from male to male.
With that in mind, it’s possible that gorillas pound their chests as a way of saying, “This is me; I’m here.” It’s a form of self-identification.
5. To Intimidate Other Gorillas
Occasionally, dominant males will pound their chest to intimidate other males in the area. It is a way of not only establishing but maintaining their dominance.
Check out this short video of a gorilla beating his chest at the Toronto Zoo:
Do Female Gorillas Beat Their Chest?
It’s usually the male gorillas that do the chest beating, but females sometimes get in on the act as well.
Though gorillas are generally gentle animals, females sometimes become aggressive with each other. They may also become aggressive in an attempt to protect their young.
As part of this aggression, they may beat their chest and charge at the perceived threat.
Again, this doesn’t happen very often though. Females do beat their chest, but they do so for different reasons than the males do, and they only do it on rare occasions.
Do Baby Gorillas Beat Their Chest?
Sometimes, even baby gorillas beat their chest. Unlike the adults, however, they have no particular reasons for doing so.
Baby gorillas sometimes beat their chest because they are mimicking their parents. This is part of their learning and growing experience.
Like most animals, baby gorillas learn from their parents. They practice the chest beating from a young age and continue to do it as they grow, eventually developing and honing their skills until they have their own unique chest beat.
Male gorillas beat their chest for a number of different reasons, such as to communicate their body size, prevent fights, and attract mates. Female gorillas sometimes beat their chest when fighting with other females or protecting their young, and baby gorillas may beat their chest from time to time to mimic their parents.