Why didn’t the largest ape that ever lived survive?

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Measuring about three meters long and weighing about 300 kilograms, it was probably the largest ape to ever walk the Earth. Researchers now know a little better why other species survived, but this giant, Gigantopithecus blacki, did not.

It was anthropologist Ralph von Königswald who 90 years ago discovered the first massive tooth of an extinct animal in a pharmacy in Hong Kong. Researchers have now found a total of four jaw bones and around 2,000 teeth in caves across China. But it is what it is. Other parts of the skeleton were never discovered, making it very difficult to say much about this huge ape.

So the researchers took a closer look at the existing fossils and the soil in which they were found. Six different techniques have been used to determine when the animal lived and under what conditions it became extinct.

The new estimate says ape-like species persisted until about 295,000 to 215,000 years ago. While the teeth of older specimens of animals show signs of abundant food and water, the teeth of later living specimens indicate that their diet changed markedly and that they received fewer nutrients.

During this period there were also changes in the landscape. Less dense forests and more open plains. Other apes, also extinct, since then seem to have adapted better. For example, one species of orangutan that lived longer became smaller. You will likely be able to climb high into trees in search of fruit. G. blacki had already grown larger by then. Maybe they’re too bulky to access good snacks.

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To get a more accurate picture of the animal’s living conditions and body size, more fossils from other parts of the body will be needed. So back to the caves.

Read more about the research here: Why did the largest ape in the world become extinct?

Megan Vasquez

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