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Silverback Gorilla Weight: Size Explained

Updated: October 17, 2022

© Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

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When you're in the gym, a 20-pound dumbbell can feel like a lot of weight. Now imagine 25 of these fur-wrapped beings running around in the wilds of Africa! The silverback gorilla is a massive, majestic animal, the largest primate on Earth. Their size is staggering, but is it useful? From an evolutionary standpoint, it takes a lot of energy and resources to grow to such a large size. Would choose against such an expensive feature unless there is a substantial advantage. This article will investigate various aspects of silverback gorilla weight and size. We'll dive into why silverbacks weigh so much more than other primates, their physical strength, and more!

What is a Silverback Gorilla?

gorilla going downhill
Silverback gorillas typically weigh between 300 and 500 pounds.

© iStock.com/dbar99

Gorillas are primates closely related to humans. As such, they are apes closely related to orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. The term "silverback" usually refers to the dominant male gorillas in each group because of the gray fur on their backs. Females of the same species do not have this distinct color pattern. There are two species and four subspecies of gorillas: western gorillas (western lowland and Cross River gorillas) and eastern gorillas (eastern lowland and mountain gorillas).

How much does a silverback gorilla weigh?

Silverback gorillas weigh between 300 and 500 pounds, while female gorillas weigh between 150 and 250 pounds. Four gorilla subspecies all live in Africa, unevenly distributed, interrupted by rivers and other geographic barriers. The largest gorilla subspecies is the eastern lowland gorilla. Their maximum weight is 5 to 10 percent larger than other gorilla subspecies such as mountain gorillas and western lowland gorillas.

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How big can a gorilla grow? The largest gorilla ever recorded weighed 860 pounds and was an eastern lowland gorilla at the St. Louis Zoo. Gorillas are the largest primates on Earth!

Why are gorillas so big?

To understand why gorillas are so big, we need some background. They are very large due to many biological and ecological factors, including their diet, finding a mate, and optimizing reproductive success.

looking for a partner

Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) - Mountain gorilla and baby in the forest
A female mountain gorilla with a baby in the forest.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com

Gorillas embody sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is when males and females of the same species have very different morphological or physical characteristics. A textbook example of sexual dimorphism is the peacock. Peacocks are known for their impressive tail feathers, but the peahen's brown plumage is far less luxurious. This exists throughout the animal kingdom. Other animals may have sex differences in color, plumage, canine size, body shape, and other interesting traits.

colorful peacock
Peacocks have unique, colorful feathers.

©iStock.com/AlexeyVis

Sexual dimorphism in gorillas is manifested in differences in their size — females weigh about half as much as males. This happens in different species, such as gorillas, where there is competition between one sex for the chance to mate. In the case of gorillas and our earlier peacock example, males compete with other males for mating opportunities. Among peacocks, for example, females are more likely to choose mates with flaring tails. A study examining the mating success of Indian peacocks found that male peacocks with longer tails and more frequent courtship displays were more likely to find mates.

Gorillas are among the most sexually dimorphic primates. Larger, dominant males have higher mating success, partly due to female preference, as well as a size advantage in direct confrontation with other males. Large male gorillas with large canine teeth are attractive as protectors and can fight for females more successfully. As a result, larger males will have more offspring than smaller subordinate males, and will pass on more genes each generation. If female gorillas are larger, their reproductive success does not improve. A 2020 study of mountain gorillas in Rwanda found that female dominance was positively correlated with reproductive success, but not size. Therefore, unlike males, there is no reproductive advantage for larger females.

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Why are gorillas so strong?

Male silverback mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Mountain gorilla ( Gorilla beringei beringei ) walking in the forest.

©Jurgen Vogt/Shutterstock.com

A gorilla's size is also related to its strength. In a gorilla troop, several females live with a protective male. In return, males have the sole opportunity to mate with females. Larger males have an advantage over smaller males in physical confrontations, so larger males are better able to defend their own group, or are better able to kill and displace another group as dominant male status. Large body size typically evolves in species where aggressive physical conflict is common, as larger individuals usually win the fight and live to reproduce.

Gorillas' Size and Diet

Young gorilla chewing a stick.

© iStock.com/nantonov

Different species of gorillas have different diets, but all gorillas eat plants such as leaves, twigs and shoots. Although eastern lowland gorillas occasionally eat insects, they are primarily herbivores. Like other herbivores, gorillas must eat large amounts of plant material to obtain adequate nutrition. The leaves are low in nutrient density and not easily digested. Increased body size allowed herbivores to evolve gut structures of increased volume and retention time. They were then able to extract more nutrients from low-energy plant material. Thus, the large body size helps to accommodate the gorillas' leafy diet! To read more about diet and weight, click here.

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about the author

jesse elop


Jesse Elop is passionate about wildlife and enjoys learning about animal biology and conservation. His favorite animals – besides his puppy Rosie – are zebras, mandrills and bonobos. Jesse's background in biology and anthropology has provided him with many interesting facts that may appear in some of his articles!

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