Ontogenetic changes in limb bone structural proportions in mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei)

Christopher B. Ruff, M. Loring Burgess, Timothy G. Bromage, Antoine Mudakikwa, Shannon C. McFarlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioral studies indicate that adult mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei) are the most terrestrial of all nonhuman hominoids, but that infant mountain gorillas are much more arboreal. Here we examine ontogenetic changes in diaphyseal strength and length of the femur, tibia, humerus, radius, and ulna in 30 Virunga mountain gorillas, including 18 immature specimens and 12 adults. Comparisons are also made with 14 adult western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), which are known to be more arboreal than adult mountain gorillas. Infant mountain gorillas have significantly stronger forelimbs relative to hind limbs than older juveniles and adults, but are nonsignificantly different from western lowland gorilla adults. The change in inter-limb strength proportions is abrupt at about two years of age, corresponding to the documented transition to committed terrestrial quadrupedalism in mountain gorillas. The one exception is the ulna, which shows a gradual increase in strength relative to the radius and other long bones during development, possibly corresponding to the gradual adoption of stereotypical fully pronated knuckle-walking in older juvenile gorillas. Inter-limb bone length proportions show a contrasting developmental pattern, with hind limb/forelimb length declining rapidly from birth to five months of age, and then showing no consistent change through adulthood. The very early change in length proportions, prior to significant independent locomotion, may be related to the need for relatively long forelimbs for climbing in a large-bodied hominoid. Virunga mountain gorilla older juveniles and adults have equal or longer forelimb relative to hind limb bones than western lowland adults. These findings indicate that both ontogenetically and among closely related species of Gorilla, long bone strength proportions better reflect actual locomotor behavior than bone length proportions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-703
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Diaphyseal strength
  • Locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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