Monster Monday: Gigantopithecus

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^A Gigantopithecus replica (known as “Mr. G”) was installed at the Museum of Man in San Diego, California, in 2003. Credit: © ZUMA Press/Alamy Image

Bigfoot and Yowie (a large, hairy ape said to live in the wild regions of Australia) might be mere legends, but one giant ape was certainly more than myth. Standing at a whopping 10 feet (3 meters) tall and weighing more than 900 pounds (400 kilograms), Gigantopithecus was about twice the size of a large male gorilla, making it the largest ape that ever lived.Gigantopithecus walked on its hands and fists, like today’s great apes, and roamed the tropical forests of what are now southern China, northern Vietnam, and northern India. Scientists believe that Gigantopithecus was related to ancestors of the modern orangutan.

Gigantopithecus’s fellow jungle creatures had only to worry about being squashed, because the colossal ape was not a meat-eater. Instead, it ate such hardy foods as bamboo and durian (a tropical fruit with a hard, prickly outer skin), using its large jaws and teeth to chew the tough plant matter. It is quite possible that crocodiles and ancient relatives of tigers and hyenas fed on Gigantopithecus young, but adults were so enormous that predators probably left them alone.

Gigantopithecus lived from more than 8 million years ago to about 200,000 years ago. It may have disappeared as the result of a shift in southern Asia’s climate about 1 million years ago, when conditions became colder and drier and the giant ape’s forest home began to shrink. Scientists believe that Homo erectus, an ancient relative of humans, crossed paths with Gigantopithecus and may have hunted it, playing a role in the monstrous beast’s extinction.

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