Mar
20
2007

Humans have longer legs than gorillas today, but this wasn't always the case.: Photo by Robert Fenton, courtesy National Gallery of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum
Humans have longer legs than gorillas today, but this wasn't always the case.: Photo by Robert Fenton, courtesy National Gallery of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum

Early human ancestors, called Australopithecines (AW-stroh-la-PITH-eh-scenes), had short legs. Scientists have long believed this was a hold-over from even earlier species which had lived in trees. But now biologist David Carrier of the University of Utah argues the short legs were used to help them fight.

Short legs give a body a lower center of gravity, and makes it harder to push over. Living apes with short legs, like gorillas, tend to be more aggressive, while long-legged apes, like gibbons, are more docile.

Of course, humans don’t have such short legs anymore. Herman Potzner of Washington University in St. Louis proposes later human species evolved long legs to save energy. His studies of various animals show that that longer a creature’s legs, the less energy they use. Around 2 million years ago, something happened in human evolution that made the fighting advantage of short legs less important than the energy savings of long legs.

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