What do gorillas eat? Diet, habits and how much food?

Beyond being the biggest primates on earth, gorillas are very smart animals and our very close human cousins. Given their superior size and incredible strength (can bench 800kg easily), one is right in wondering, what do gorillas actually feed on for their survival?

To answer all this, we'll go through what they eat, how much, their eating habits, and more. We have dug through the science and research to make sure of the facts,

What do gorillas eat?

silverback gorilla eating

The diet of gorillas is majorly vegetarian as they mostly feed on stems, shoots, barks, leaves, fruits, and the occasional ant or termite. The specific food of the gorillas depends on the presence (and absence) of certain plants in their forest habitat. This is sometimes affected by seasonal changes.

Mountain gorillas eat the least of fruits and termites because their high altitude isn't very conducive for fruits or many termites. Western lowland gorillas on the other hand have more fruit in their territory and are keen on termites that they often break termite nests and eat the termite larvae.

Because of the high altitude and low temperatures fruits will take longer to ripen and thus mountain gorillas end up eating fewer fruits. Mountain gorillas do however love fruits, and when it is a fruiting season, their diet will comprise around 90% fruits.

Lowland gorillas enjoy more fruits because the fruits become ripe quicker in the slightly warmer higher temperatures of their lowland forest habitat.

According to our friend and conservationist Julius Mutale, who has been doing gorilla research in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda for more than 5 years, the mountain gorillas in Bwindi eat more fruits than those in the Virungas. Similarly, the gorillas in the Buhoma sector of Bwindi eat more fruits than those in Ruhija which is at a slightly more elevated altitude. 

Julius is part of the Max Planck Institute's long-term gorilla research team in Ruhija and he spends a lot of mornings in the forest with the mountain gorillas. You can follow his Instagram (@biodiversity_bwindi) for fresh pictures of gorillas and Bwindi.

We are just lucky to have a friend and a conservationist in him.

What do gorillas eat in the zoo?

eastern lowland gorilla

In captivity, gorillas are fed on a balanced diet of leaves, stems, shoots, fruits, ants, termites, and high-fibre primate biscuits. The leafy vegetable takes up at least 60% of the entire meal while the other ingredients share the remaining percentage.

In the zoo, the health and diet of the gorillas are closely monitored and adjusted depending on the health condition of the gorilla.

While other gorillas species have managed to survive in the captive environment of the zoo, you should know that such attempts failed with mountain gorillas - and as such, all the mountain gorillas in the world still live in their natural wild jungle habitat.

You can take a look at our article on where mountain gorillas live?

Do gorillas eat meat and fish?

While science fully agrees that gorillas are omnivores because they occasionally eat insects such as termites, gorillas do not eat meat or fish. Their strong bite force is for chopping down on some veggies - and a bit of fighting to protect themselves.

According to some research, the DNA of duikers and some monkeys was found in some gorilla's faeces. While the faeces could have been contaminated, the possibility of meat consumption was not fully dismissed since the digestive system of a gorilla is capable of digesting meat. However, there isn't enough data to support any of these theories and the research continues. You can visit this journal article and follow the research.

Do gorillas eat bananas in the wild?

While you might have seen gorillas and other primates eating bananas at the zoo or in movies, gorillas do not eat bananas in the jungle.

The jungle where gorillas live is very thick with trees that do not allow the bananas to grow and therefore most gorillas in the wild live their whole lives without ever having eaten a banana.

When the local population is near the national park, a gorilla might move out to the community and end up eating bananas, but this is in fact destructive and regarded as Human-Wildlife Conflict.

While gorillas CAN eat bananas, they typically do not eat them because they have no way of getting to them.

Additionally, it is illegal to take food, in this case, bananas to animals in the national park and this is why many gorillas have probably never tasted a banana.

Gorillas' eating habits?

Gorillas have great eating habits in the fact that they don't overfeed. As gorillas are eating, they don't overfeed and exhaust one patch of the forest. They rather feed in a balanced manner that allows the plats to quickly recover.

gorilla climbing a tree

For those plants whose leaves, shoots, and stems are eaten by gorillas, a gorilla will only eat one of the parts and move to the other plant for a different part. This is how gorillas do it, and this is how they conserve their own food sources in a smart way.

How much do gorillas eat?

eastern lowland silverback gorilla

Given the size and strength of a gorilla, it is fair to wonder how much a gorilla really eats in a day.

On average, an adult male gorilla eats about 30 kg of vegetation every day whereas an adult female gorilla will eat 18 to 20 kg of vegetation daily.

What are some plants eaten by gorillas?

The diet of gorillas consists of more than 140 plant species that occur naturally in the jungle habitat. Some of these are slightly more common than others.

Here are some 18 plants that are consumed by gorillas in their natural forest habitat. 

  • Piper capense
  • Parinari excelsa
  • Olea capensis
  • Englerina
  • Orthosiphon australis
  • Morella (myrica) Salicifolia
  • Momordica foetida
  • Basella alba
  • Ficus natalensis
  • Dracaena laxissima
  • Rytigynia rumensoriensis
  • Flabellaria paniculata
  • Landolphia glabra
  • Ganodarma
  • Commelina africana
  • Teclea nobilis
  • Ardisia standtii
  • Allophylus albisinicus

Final thoughts

We hope that by now your questions about a gorilla's diet are fully answered. We have to mention that while learning about gorillas is so much fun (and you should keep doing it), seeing them is the real treat.

If you can get a chance to see gorillas in the wild, you should definitely do it because looking into those red sad eyes is a humbling and comforting way to connect with nature.

We love to travel because of its potential to break barriers and its role in conserving natural ecosystems - like the habitats of gorillas. This is why it is easy to recommend travelling to these places. Plus, rich experiences are always worth the time and money.

In the meantime, here are some other articles about gorillas for you to enjoy. Feel free to share them with your friends and family - they might love them.