Scientists have finally solved the mystery of why the "greatest primate to ever inhabit the Earth" became extinct.

Scientists have finally solved the mystery of why the “greatest primate to ever inhabit the Earth” became extinct.

Scientists announced on Wednesday that the biggest primate to ever roam the Earth became extinct due to its inability to adjust to its changing surroundings. The powerful creature was forced to survive on bark and twigs before eventually disappearing.

Gigantopithecus blacki, a species that reached heights of 10 feet and could weigh up to 660 pounds, was abundant in the woodlands of southern Asia until around 200,000 years ago.

For many years, the reason for the extinction of the great ape, which had thrived for hundreds of thousands of years, has been a puzzle in the field of paleontology. This mystery began when a German scientist named G.H.R. von Koenigswald discovered a tooth from the ape at a Hong Kong apothecary in the 1930s.

This illustration provided by researchers depicts Gigantopithecus blacki in a forest in the Guangxi region of southern China.

The image, created by scientists, portrays Gigantopithecus blacki in a woodland area located in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi.

AP Photo/Southern Cross University, Garcia/Joannes-Boyau

The molar was of such great size that it was being marketed as a “dragon’s tooth.”

A recent research paper published in the journal Nature.

Since then, only four incomplete jawbones and approximately 2,000 teeth have been discovered of the Gigantopithecus. Hundreds of these teeth were found in caves located in the Guangxi province of southern China.

According to Yingqi Zhang from China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the reason for the extinction of apes in these caves remains a mystery despite ten years of digging.

In order to create a timeline of the animal’s past, a group of scientists from China, Australia, and the United States gathered fossilized teeth from 22 different caves.

The team utilized six distinct methods to establish the age of the fossils, including a relatively recent technique known as luminescence dating that calculates the most recent instance minerals were exposed to sunlight.

The earliest teeth discovered were over 2 million years old, while the most recent were approximately 250,000 years old.

Zhang, in his Beijing office, informed AFP that researchers now have the ability to fully explain the extinction of Gigantopithecus. This is the first time the complete story has been revealed.

A massive creature committed a major error.

It was determined that the animal’s “extinction period” occurred approximately 215,000 to 295,000 years ago, which is much earlier than previously believed.

“In this period, the weather patterns were becoming more distinct, causing shifts in the surrounding ecosystem.”

The dense, vibrant woodland that was once home to Gigantopithecus was gradually transforming into more expansive forests and grassy areas.

This led to the ape having less access to its preferred food, which was fruit.

The large creature was restricted to the ground, unable to climb into the trees for food at a higher elevation.

According to Kira Westaway, a geochronologist at Macquarie University in Australia and co-lead author, the animal resorted to consuming less nutritious alternatives like bark and twigs.

According to Zhang, this mistake was significant and ultimately caused the extinction of the animal.

According to the authors of the study, the ultimate inability to adapt resulted in the extinction of the Earth’s most remarkable primate.

The large size of the primate hindered its ability to travel long distances in search of food – and its immense weight required a substantial amount of sustenance.

Despite facing these obstacles, Westaway stated that “surprisingly, the size of G. blacki actually increased during this period.”

Through examining the ape’s teeth, the scientists were able to quantify the heightened pressure it experienced as its population diminished.

An undated file photo shows a 1.9 million-year-old Gigantopithecus blacki molar found in a cave in Tiandong County of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

A photo from an unspecified date displays a molar belonging to Gigantopithecus blacki, estimated to be 1.9 million years old and discovered in a cave in Tiandong County, located in China’s autonomous region of Guangxi Zhuang.

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

In a 2019 study, it was found that the proteins found in a fossil of Gigantopithecus indicate that its closest living relative is the Bornean orangutan.

In 2019, Dr. Frido Welker from the University of Copenhagen explained that this creature would have been more closely related to orangutans than other living great apes like gorillas, chimpanzees, or humans.

In the recent research, scientists examined how Gigantopithecus and its orangutan cousin, Pongo weidenreichi, adapted to a shifting environment.

The orangutan was smaller and had better agility, allowing it to quickly navigate through the forest canopy and gather a diverse range of food including leaves, flowers, nuts, seeds, and even insects and small mammals.

As time passed, it continued to shrink, while its larger relative Gigantopithecus struggled to survive.

Westaway stressed the significance of comprehending the destiny of the species that existed before us, especially in light of the looming threat of a sixth mass extinction event.


Only orangutans and humans remain.

According to Rick Potts, the director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the first humans originated in Africa; however, it is still unknown on which continent the great ape family first appeared. Potts was not involved in the study.

This report contains contributions from The Associated Press.