SCIENCE
01/06/2016 06:00 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2016

Real-Life King Kong Died Because It Wouldn't Change Its Diet, Study Says

Gigantopithecus couldn't adapt to a changing world.
Mystery solved? Scientists think they now know what killed off the Gigantopithecus, which has been described a
Credit: H. Bocherens
Mystery solved? Scientists think they now know what killed off the Gigantopithecus, which has been described as a real-life King Kong. 

It wasn't airplanes that killed King Kong. It wasn't even beauty that killed the beast.

It was diet. 

Gigantopithecus, a giant ape once described as a real-life King Kong, went extinct because it couldn't adapt to a changing food landscape, according to new research published in the journal Quaternary International.

Scientists believe the aptly named ape was the largest primate ever to walk the Earth, reaching heights of nearly 10 feet and weighing as much as 1,100 pounds.

By comparison, the largest primate today is literally half that size. The eastern lowland gorilla is between 4 feet and 5.5 feet tall when standing upright and weighs up to 440 pounds, according to World Wildlife Fund.

But little else is known about Gigantopithecus because it left little behind when it vanished from China and southeast Asia some 100,000 years ago. So far, the only fossils found have been jawbones, and teeth so big they were once sold as "dragon's teeth." 

Prof. Dr. Friedemann Schrenk shows off one of the giant molars of the&nbsp;<i>Gigantopithecus</i>.
Credit: Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment
Prof. Dr. Friedemann Schrenk shows off one of the giant molars of the Gigantopithecus.

But an analysis of those teeth shows why Gigantopithecus disappeared: They were very finicky eaters. 

An analysis using carbon isotopes showed that the Gigantopithecus was a vegetarian that lived in the forest, and didn't like bamboo. As the ice age advanced, the giant ape's forest home shrunk, eliminating its preferring food. While other apes made do with what was available on the growing savannas, stubborn Gigantopithecus clung to its home and diet.

"Due to its size, Gigantopithecus presumably depended on a large amount of food," said Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen in Germany. "When during the Pleistocene era more and more forested areas turned into savanna landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply for the giant ape."

Not everyone believes Gigantopithecus went extinct. The Telegraph reports that anthropologist Grover Krantz, who died in 2002, theorized that some survived and crossed over into North America -- and that their descendants are responsible for modern Bigfoot sightings. 

 

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