Unexpected terrestrial hand posture diversity in wild mountain gorillas

Nathan E. Thompson, Kelly R. Ostrofsky, Shannon C. McFarlin, Martha M. Robbins, Tara S. Stoinski, Sergio Almécija

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Objectives: Gorillas, along with chimpanzees and bonobos, are ubiquitously described as ‘knuckle-walkers.’ Consequently, knuckle-walking (KW) has been featured pre-eminently in hypotheses of the pre-bipedal locomotor behavior of hominins and in the evolution of locomotor behavior in apes. However, anecdotal and behavioral accounts suggest that mountain gorillas may utilize a more complex repertoire of hand postures, which could alter current interpretations of African ape locomotion and its role in the emergence of human bipedalism. Here we documented hand postures during terrestrial locomotion in wild mountain gorillas to investigate the frequency with which KW and other hand postures are utilized in the wild. Materials and methods: Multiple high-speed cameras were used to record bouts of terrestrial locomotion of 77 habituated mountain gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda). Results: We captured high-speed video of hand contacts in 8% of the world's population of mountain gorillas. Our results reveal that nearly 40% of these gorillas used “non-KW” hand postures, and these hand postures constituted 15% of all hand contacts. Some of these “non-KW” hand postures have never been documented in gorillas, yet match hand postures previously identified in orangutans. Discussion: These results highlight a previously unrecognized level of hand postural diversity in gorillas, and perhaps great apes generally. Although present at lower frequencies than KW, we suggest that the possession of multiple, versatile hand postures present in wild mountain gorillas may represent a shared feature of the African ape and human clade (or even great ape clade) rather than KW per se.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)84-94
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


    • ape
    • hominoid
    • knuckle-walking
    • terrestrial locomotion


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