Ask Giz: If Humans Descended From Apes, Why Aren’t Apes Extinct?

Ask Giz: If Humans Descended From Apes, Why Aren’t Apes Extinct?

Welcome back to Ask Giz, where we answer your burning questions within the Giz-o-sphere.

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Today’s question comes from Mickey in Brisbane. Mickey wants to know:

“If humans are descended from apes then why do we still have gorillas?”

A terrific question, one that many may have amidst the confusion that is evolutionary biology. We’re on the case, Mickey.

If Humans Descended From Apes, Why Aren’t Apes Extinct?

There’s actually quite a short answer to this question, as the Indiana University of Bloomington outlines.

“We did not evolve from a modern, living ape, like a chimpanzee. We evolved and descended from the common ancestor of apes, which lived and died in the distant past. This means that we are related to other apes and that we are apes ourselves. And alongside us, the other living ape species have also evolved from that same common ancestor, and exist today in the wild and zoos.”

So that actually wraps the question up quite neatly, but let’s break it down a bit. What is a “common ancestor”?

Common ancestry in biology refers to a shared ancestor far back, which many species can trace their evolution back to. It doesn’t refer to one specific individual organism, but an ancient species itself, one that developed over time and had babies that would go on to develop into their own species. It’s like if you look at your family tree; you and your distant cousins have a shared great-great-great grandfather if you look far enough back.

So, while we may have shared traits with the apes of the modern world, such as our similar bodies and thumbs, humans simply evolved differently to them over millions of years. The apes that we know today likely weren’t always like we know them either, as evolution impacted their own development depending on the environment.

Ape out

That’s really the end of it. The existence of apes, along with the found remains of those apes, indicates that we all shared a common ancestor.

Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: How Do Pilots ‘Make Up’ Time in the Air?

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