If you ever saw a gorilla, you must have noticed some peculiar behavior, like chest-pounding, making loud noises, and hitting the ground with powerful hands.
But why do gorillas slap the ground? And what does it mean when a gorilla hits the ground? You will be surprised to learn that both males and females do it, for very different reasons.
Gorillas slap the ground to communicate when feeling threatened, hostile, or aroused.
Male gorillas will pound their chest, grunt, and hit the ground when facing an enemy or when fighting with another gorilla for dominance. Female gorillas hit the ground to attract the attention of a male gorilla they want to mate with.
Let’s jump straight in, and explain each of these two reasons in depth.
Slapping The Ground When Threatened
When feeling threatened by a predator or when an ape from another group tries to steal one of the females, a gorilla might become extremely aggressive. It might stand upright on its back legs to make itself look bigger or show its deadly canine teeth to intimidate the enemy.
If the opposing animal does not run away, a gorilla might charge at it making loud groaning, tighten its teeth, pound its chest, or frantically hit the ground. When in shallow water, instead of hitting the ground, a gorilla will splash water to intimidate potential rivals.
A study from the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany noted that young gorillas use two very important auditory gestures: ground slapping and ground stomping.
When it comes to ground slapping, the animal would hit the ground, rock, or a wall with the palm of its hand.
Ground stomping includes the animal bringing the sole or heel of a foot suddenly and forcibly against the ground, object, or just walking in a pounding manner.
What was interesting, was that 100% of the gorillas they were tracking slapped ground to communicate with other gorillas; only 69% of them stomped the ground.
Slapping The Ground To Attract Attention Of Males
Female gorillas become sexually mature at 10-12 years old, while males at 11-13 years. However, each of them will not breed until several years later.
Usually, a female gorilla will initiate the mating process. When ready to mate, a female gorilla will approach the dominant male slowly, continuously make eye contact, and even purse her lips. If a silverback does not react to her courtship, she will try to get closer and even touch him.
If she can’t charm the dominant male, a female gorilla will then hit the ground with power in a final attempt to draw his attention. Most of the time it works, except when the male is too busy to attend to her. In such cases, a female will mate with a male of a lower rank from her gorilla group.
If a male tries to seduce a female gorilla, the purpose is the same: attract a female to mate with her. To do so, a silverback gorilla will get closer, touch her, and emit various sounds.
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Why Do Gorillas Slap Each Other?
Gorillas might occasionally slap each other, but not always in an aggressive way. The main purpose of this move is to initiate play between the members of their group or to tell some gorillas to move.
A 2009 study on gestural communication discovered that a gorilla would slap another gorilla to make it change its location or position in 30% of cases.
A gorilla would forcefully slap another individual with the palm as a chase or contact play invitation – to make another gorilla run away from the other in a playful chasing manner or to make body contact and start rough-and-tumble or wrestling play. This happened in 38% of situations.
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TL;DR – Why Do Gorillas Slap The Ground?
Despite looking very intimidating, gorillas are mostly docile animals that do not engage in many fights. However, when they do, they might pound the ground to scare away their foes and avoid fighting in the first place. A physical duel might leave a gorilla wounded and lose its dominant position. That’s why many males will only try to intimidate the opposition.
Occasionally, a hit on the ground might just mean that a gorilla wants another gorilla to move from its path.
Females might also hit the ground, but for a completely different purpose – to attract the attention of a dominant male and mate with him.
In case you see a gorilla slap the ground and wonder what it means – it definitely means to leave the ape alone because it is feeling very hostile.
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