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Gigantopithecus was an extinct genus of ape which lived in India, China, and Indochina from about 1.5 to 0.3 million years ago. The position of Gigantopithecus in the evolutionary tree of life is uncertain, although among modern apes they may be most closely related to the orang utan. It is known that Gigantopithecus was not a human ancestor and has no known living descendants.
They were up to 3 metres tall and could weigh 500 kg (in contrast gorillas are less than 2 metres high and weigh up to 195 kg). They lived in Asian forests where they mostly ate plants, probably bamboo in particular but it may have had a slightly wider diet than pandas, including fruit and some other plant matter. Scientists believe they became extinct around 100,000 years ago (older studies say slightly earlier) due to climate change turning their forests into savannah and reducing their food supply.
Only a small number of remains have been found, largely teeth and bone fragments, with no complete skeleton. The first example were identified by Ralph von Koenigswald in 1935, having found fragments in a traditional Chinese medicine shop labelled as dragon teeth. Since then, specimens have been found at sites in southern China (notably Liucheng Cave in Liuzhou, China) as well as Vietnam and India.
Three species are known:
- Gigantopithecus blacki: the latest, which became extinct around 100,000 years ago
- Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis: lived 9-6 million years ago in India
- Gigantopithecus giganteus: despite its name, smaller and earlier than G. blacki.
Is it Bigfoot?
Some cryptozoologists claim that Gigantopithecus has living descendants, namely bigfoot and the yeti. There is no evidence supporting the existence of these cryptids, so there is no reason to believe they exist. Indeed, many versions of the bigfoot and yeti myth suggest a swift, agile, predatory animal, which does not match the big bamboo-eating ape; and bigfoot is generally described as bipedal while Gigantopithecus probably was not. More scientifically minded individuals have proposed that the discovery of Gigantopithecus remains are what led to the legends of the yeti.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gigantopithecus.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gorilla.
- Why Earth's Largest Ape Went Extinct, Live Science, 2016
- The Largest Ape That Ever Lived Was Doomed By Its Size, Mark Strauss, National Geographic, 5 January 2016
- Did Bigfoot Really Exist? How Gigantopithecus Became Extinct, Smithsonian Magazine, Jan 9, 2012