Differences Between Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans


I was asked what the differences are between these apes and it is actually hard to decide where to start. The three are primates, but they are quite different in many ways. They are different in appearance, eating habits and in behavior. Lets look at each.


chimpanzeeThere are two species of chimps, Pan troglodytes, which live south of the Sahara but north of the Congo River, and Pan paniscus, which live south of the Congo. The first species is aggressive and often led by males while the second species are usually peaceful and are normally led by females. Chimps are native only to Africa. They are also mostly vegetarian, but will eat meat and insects, too.

There is a lot of difference in size between the males and females. They also look a bit different. The males normally grow to about four feet tall and weigh up to 150 pounds in the wild. The females can be quite a bit smaller.

The color is usually dark brown to black. The arms are a little longer than the legs and the fingers, palms, bottoms of the feet and face don’t have hair. The nose is flat. Chimps are closer to humans, genetically, than any other primate and they are intelligent, even capable of learning a sort of sign language. They are also tool users. Chimps have little problem walking upright, though the walk is often with a swagger that swings the shoulders forward and back.

Many of a chimp’s facial expressions are like those of humans and they clearly have a sense of humor, though what is funny to a chimp may not be funny to a human.

Chimps build nests in trees for sleeping and have very good climbing ability.


monkey-428032_960_720There are also two species of orangutan. Pongo pygmaeus is known as the Bornean orangutan. Pongo abelii is known as the Sumatran orangutan. Orangutans are native only to Asia, specifically Indonesia and Malaysia.

This ape spends very little time on the ground; living primarily in the trees. The are the most tree-living among the great apes. Their diet is similar to that of chimps. Also like chimps, they are quite intelligent and use tools.

Orangutans are stoutly built, with powerful arms and relatively short and weak legs. The are light brown to reddish and dark brown in color. The cheeks of the male adults becomes flabby and pronounced. They also develop a large neck pouch. The males grow to about four and a half feet tall and in excess of 165 pounds, while the females rarely become four feet and usually weigh about half of what the males weigh.

Because of the short, weak legs and very long arms, when orangutans are on the ground, they often walk upright with their arms held out at the sides for balance or over their heads so they don’t drag on the ground. In trees, though, orangutans can move very rapidly, swinging from branch to branch.

Tigers and clouded leopards both prey on orangutans, however there have been recorded cases of a group of orangutans attacking and chasing off the predators, particularly when the great apes are protecting the young. despite this, orangutans are less social and more solitary than any other kind of great ape.


gorillaGorillas are yet again divided into two species, living in the dense forests of central Africa. These are the largest of the great apes and they live exclusively on the ground. Gorillas are also herbivores, though more strictly so than either chips or orangutans, eating nothing but plant material.

Adult male gorillas grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds, occasionally 600 pounds when in captivity, if they are allowed to become obese. The females are slightly shorter and usually don’t weigh more than 250 pounds. The fur is normally brown to dark brown and the males often have silvery hair on the back, earning them the nickname of ‘silverbacks’. Gorillas also have a domed skull that is most pronounced in the adult males. (Chimps and orangutans both have rounded skulls, similar to a human’s.)

These are powerful animals that rarely stand upright. They usually use all four limbs, resting the weight on the knuckles of the hands rather than on the palms as with most non-primates.

Gorillas build large nests on the ground, which is different from chimpanzees and orangutans, which nest in trees. The nests are used periodically both during the day and during the night. In fact, most of their time is spent either eating or sleeping. Young gorillas sometimes climb when they are playing, but the adults are too heavy to climb trees. In the rare instances when gorillas build nests in trees, they are usually built close to the ground. Gorillas aren’t built to swing from branch to branch like orangutans are.

While the typical chimp and orangutan diet tends to feature a lot of fruit, gorillas normally eat a larger quantity of twigs, leaves and shoots. Only a little part of the food they eat consists of fruit.

Though quite powerful and having strong armsĀ and stout canine teeth, gorillas are usually peaceful unless something is threatening the troop or young.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is believed to be a mutation of the extremely similar Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), which is a Gorilla disease. There is strong evidence that the HIV virus that causes AIDS originated with gorillas. How humans first contracted the disease is unknown.

Chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas are all great apes and are primates. However, they look different, behave differently, come from different places for the most part and occupy different habitats. There is little doubt at all that these are very different animals. This doesn’t even count the differences in bone or internal structure.




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