Scientists Figure Out What Killed the Real King Kong
Gigantopithecus just couldn't adapt when its fruit ran out, says study
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2016 9:40 AM CST
Gigantopithecus may have looked something like this.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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(Newser) – The world may not have had a King Kong as Hollywood imagined him to be, but the next best thing was a creature called Gigantopithecus that roamed 100,000 years ago. The largest ape known to man stood some 9 feet tall and weighed half a ton, gorging on fruit in what used to be semi-tropical forests of Southeast Asia, explains AFP. As it turns out, the giant ape's demise had nothing to do with unrequited love and everything to do with its diet in a changing world, according to a new study. When the forests began turning into grasslands, Gigantopithecus ran out of food, say researchers. Other apes were able to adapt by adding grass, leaves, and roots to their diet, but for reasons that remain unclear, Gigantopithecus didn't make the switch.

“When during the Pleistocene, more and more forested area turned into savannah landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply," says researcher Herve Bocherens of Germany's Tübingen University. "Gigantopithecus probably did not have the same ecological flexibility and possibly lacked the physiological ability to resist stress and food shortage." Fossil records for the ape are skimpy: A post at Laboratory Equipment notes that it wasn't identified until 1935, and then drew quick comparisons to King Kong because the movie had come out just two years prior. In the new study, researchers analyzed carbon isotopes in teeth and jaw bone fossils to conclude that the ape was a strict vegetarian that probably even shied away from bamboo. (Another famous animal—Darwin's finches—might soon be on the extinct list, too.)