Quirks & Quarks

Humans get lousy mileage compared to apes

Humans use far more energy for their size than gorillas, chimps or orangutans

Metabolic energy use by humans is far higher than for other great apes

Humans and the other Great Apes share a close genetic relationship. But among the things that distinguish us from the apes is that humans are energy hogs.

Dr. Herman Pontzer, a biological anthropologist at Hunter College in New York, measured the amount of energy used by humans, gorillas, chimps and orangutans, and found that, when corrected for body size, humans' metabolic rate is considerably higher than that of all the apes, by several hundred calories a day. Put another way, we get considerably worse mileage than our nearest relatives.

Dr. Pontzer suggests that this is the evolutionary price we pay for big brains, a long lifespan, and a reproductive rate that is much higher than the other Great Apes.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
The Atlantic story
Science news story