How can gorillas knuckle-walk?

BBC Wildlife section editor Sarah McPherson answers your wild question. 

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West lowland gorilla.

BBC Wildlife section editor Sarah McPherson answers your wild question. 

Gorillas (plus chimps and bonobos) are specialised knuckle-walkers. This is not because they can’t carry their weight upright – they can walk bipedally when necessary.

As knuckle-walkers, gorillas have various adaptations for stability and weight-bearing.

The middle and end phalanges (finger bones), which bear the animal’s weight, are widened and flattened for extra strength; in the forearm, the end of the radius that sits nearest the hand is both cupped and downward-facing, allowing it to fit snugly beside the scaphoid in the wrist; the metacarpals (knuckle bones) have ridges that ‘lock’ into place with the phalanges; and the skin on the fingers is thick as well as heavily padded.

All in all, a gorilla’s hands and wrists are strong, stable units capable of supporting a 270kg male.

 

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