What is Dryopithecus?

Dryopithecus is a genus of extinct great apes that lived between 12.5 and 11.1 million years ago in Europe's middle-late Miocene boundary (mya). The genus has been in taxonomic chaos since its discovery in 1856, with multiple new species being identified from single remains based on minute variations between them, and the fragmentary existence of the holotype specimen makes differentiating remains difficult.

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There is only one species that is currently uncontested, the type species D. fontani, but there may be others. The genus Dryopithecus belongs to the Dryopithecini tribe, which is either an offshoot of orangutans, African apes, or its own branch. In life, a male specimen was estimated to weigh 44 kg (97 lb). While the anatomy of a humerus and femur indicates a greater emphasis on walking on all fours, Dryopithecus most likely ate ripe fruit from trees, implying some suspensory behaviour to reach them (quadrupedalism). Males had larger canines than females, which is usually associated with high levels of aggression, and the face was close to that of gorillas. They may have built up fat stores for the winter because they lived in a seasonal, paratropical environment. The disappearance of European great apes is thought to have occurred during a drying and cooling trend in the Late Miocene, which resulted in the retreat of warm-climate forests.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom - Animalia 

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Mammalia 

Order - Primates 

Suborder - Haplorhini

Infraorder - Simiiformes 

Family - Hominidae

Tribe - Dryopithecines

Genus - Dryopithecus 


Since the authority believed it lived in an oak or pine forest in a climate similar to modern-day Europe, the genus name Dryopithecus was derived from Ancient Greek drus "oak tree" and pithikos "ape." Monsieur Alfred Fontan, a local collector, was the discoverer of the species D. fontani.


French palaeontology Édouard Lartet identified the first Dryopithecus fossils from the French Pyrenees in 1856, three years before Charles Darwin reported On the Origin of Species. Authors after that reported resemblances to modern African great apes. Darwin briefly stated in The Descent of Man that Dryopithecus casts doubt on apes' African origins, stating that "it is somewhat more likely that our early progenitors existed on the African continent than elsewhere." But it's pointless to speculate on this; two or three anthropomorphic apes, one of which, Dryopithecus of Lartet, was nearly as tall as a man and closely related to Hylobates, lived in Europe during the Miocene epoch; and the world has undoubtedly undergone several great revolutions since then, and there has been enough time for large-scale migration.

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Dryopithecus taxonomy has been tumultuous, with new specimens being used to create new species or genera based on minor variations, resulting in the extinction of many species. By the 1960s, all non-human apes had been categorised into the now-defunct Pongidae family, and extinct apes had been classified into the Dryopithecus family. In 1965, English palaeoanthropologist David Pilbeam and American palaeontology Elwyn L. Simons divided the genus Dryopithecus into three subgenera: Dryopithecus in Europe, Sivapithecus in Asia, and Proconsul in Africa, which included specimens from all over the Old World at the time. Following that, there was a debate over whether each of these subgenera should be raised to the level of genus. Dryopithecus was subdivided into the subgenera Dryopithecus in Europe and Proconsul, Limnopithecus, and Rangwapithecus in Africa in 1979, and Sivapithecus was elevated to the genus. Since then, even more species have been added to the genus, and by the twenty-first century, D. fontani, D. brancoi, D. laietanus, and D. crusafonti were all included. The discovery of a partial skull of D. fontani in 2009 caused several of them to be broken off into separate genera, including the newly established Hispanopithecus, because part of the uncertainty was caused by the fragmentary existence of the Dryopithecus holotype, which had unclear and incomplete diagnostic characteristics.

The namesake great ape tribe Dryopithecines includes Dryopithecus, Hispanopithecus, Rudapithecus, Ouranopithecus, Anoiapithecus, and Pierolapithecus, while the latter two may belong to Dryopithecus, the former two may be synonyms, and the former three may be divided into their own groups. Dryopithecines is classified as an offshoot of orangutans (Ponginae), an ancestor of African apes and humans (Homininae), or a distinct branch of the orangutan family (Ponginae) (Dryopithecines).

Dryopithecus was a member of the great ape adaptive radiation in Europe's developing forests during the Miocene Climatic Optimum, probably descended from early or middle Miocene African apes that diversified during the Middle Miocene disturbance (a cooling event). It's possible that great apes evolved in Europe or Asia before migrating to Africa.

Physical Characteristics

The living weight of a male Dryopithecus was measured to be 44 kg based on measurements of the femoral head of the Spanish IPS41724 (97 lb). The teeth of Dryopithecus are most closely related to those of modern chimps. The teeth are tiny, with a thin layer of enamel. The slender jaw of Dryopithecus indicates that it was not well-suited to consuming abrasive or hard food. Males have pronounced canine teeth, similar to modern apes. The premolars are larger than the molars. It has a broad nose that is nearly vertically oriented to the face, a wide roof of the mouth, and a long muzzle (prognathism). Since early to middle Miocene African apes do not share such similarities, gorilla-like features in Dryopithecus evolved independently rather than as a result of near affinities.

The humerus is comparable in size and shapes to that of a bonobo, measuring about 265 mm (10.4 in). The shaft of Dryopithecus, like that of bonobos, bows outward, and the triceps and deltoids insertions are poorly formed, implying that it was not as adept at suspensory behaviour as orangutans. The femoral neck, which links the femoral head to the femoral shaft, is short and steep; the femoral head is low to the greater trochanter, and the lesser trochanter is more towards the backside. All of these characteristics are critical for hip joint mobility and suggest quadrupedal locomotion rather than suspensory locomotion. Fruit trees in the period and region of the Austrian Dryopithecus were usually 5 to 12 m (16 to 39 ft) tall, with thinner terminal branches bearing fruit, implying suspensory behaviour to reach them.


Dryopithecus probably consumed mostly fruit (frugivory), and cavities on the teeth of the Austrian Dryopithecus suggest a high-sugar diet, most likely derived from ripe fruits and honey. Dryopithecus ate both soft and hard foods, which may mean that they ate a large variety of foods or that they ate harder foods as a fallback. Nonetheless, its unspecialized teeth suggest a varied diet, and its large body size may have allowed a large gut to help in the processing of less-digestible food, possibly extending to include foods like leaves (folivory) in times of drought, similar to modern apes. Dryopithecus, unlike modern apes, most likely consumed a high-carbohydrate, low-fiber diet. 

With the exception of great apes, a high-fructose diet is linked to higher levels of uric acid, which is neutralised by uricase in most species. It's believed they started making it around 15 mya, which resulted in higher blood pressure, which contributed to more exercise and a greater capacity to store fat. For nine or ten months of the year, the palaeoenvironment of late Miocene Austria suggests an abundance of fruiting trees and honey, and Dryopithecus may have depended on these fat reserves during the late winter. Uric acid levels in the blood have also been linked to higher intelligence. Male Dryopithecus had longer canines than females, which is consistent with aggressive behaviour in modern primates.


Elephants (e. g., Gomphotherium), rhinos (e. g., Lartetotherium), pigs (e. g., Listriodon), antelope (e. g., Miotragocerus), horses (e. g., Hippotherium), hyaenas (e. g., Protictitherium), and big cats (e. g., Protictitherium) are (e. g., Pseudaelurus). The great apes Hispanopithecus, Anoiapithecus, and Pierolapithecus, as well as the monkey Pliopithecus, are all associated primates. These floras are typical of a humid, forested, paratropical wetland, and they may have existed in a seasonal climate. Prunus, grapevines, black mulberry, strawberry trees, hickory, and chestnuts may have been valuable fruit sources for the Austrian Dryopithecus, as well as oak, beech, elm, and pine honey sources.

In Europe, the late Miocene marked the start of a drying trend. The uplift of the Alps caused tropical and warm-climate vegetation in Central Europe to retreat in favour of mid-latitude and alpine flora, while increasing seasonality and dry spells in the Mediterranean region and the advent of a Mediterranean climate possibly caused the replacement of forestland and woodland by open shrubland, and the uplift of the Alps caused tropical and warm-climate vegetation in Central Europe to retreat in favour of mid-latitude and alpine flora. Great apes in Europe are most likely extinct as a result of this.

Difference Between Dryopithecus and Ramapithecus



Dryopithecus is the genus of extinct ape that is representative of early members of the lineage that includes humans and other apes.

Ramapithecus resembled more like a man than lesser apes.

They were present about 15 million years ago in the Miocene epoch.

They were fossil primates dating from the Middle and Late Miocene epochs (about 16.6 million to 5.3 million years ago).

The Dryopithecus has been known by a variety of names based upon fragmentary material found over a wide area including Europe, Africa, and Asia, it appears probable that only a single genus is represented.

They were present about 15 million years ago in the Siwalik Hills. The first Ramapithecus fossils (fragments of an upper jaw and some teeth) were discovered in 1932 in fossil deposits in the Siwalik Hills of northern India.

They resemble more like apes. Their Forelimbs were longer than hindlimbs.

They resembled more like a man than lesser apes. Their forelimbs were smaller than hind limbs.

Dryopithecus Characteristics and Diet

While the most well-known type of Dryopithecus had chimp-like limbs and facial features, the species came in a variety of sizes and shapes, including small, medium, and even massive, gorilla-sized specimens. Most of the features that differentiate humans from current ape species were absent in Dryopithecus. While their canine teeth were larger than humans', they were not as well developed as those of modern apes. Their limbs were also relatively short, and their skulls lacked the substantial brow ridges seen in modern counterparts.

Dryopithecus most likely alternated between walking on their knuckles and running on their hind legs, particularly when being pursued by predators, based on the shape of their bodies. Dryopithecus most likely spent the majority of their time high up in trees, eating berries (a diet we can infer from their relatively weak cheek teeth, which would have been unable to handle tougher vegetation).

Dryopithecus' Unusual Location

The strangest truth about Dryopithecus—and one that has caused a lot of consternation—is that it was mainly found in western Europe rather than Africa. You don't have to be a zoologist to realise that Europe isn't known for its abundance of native monkeys and apes. In reality, the Barbary macaque is the only existing indigenous species, having migrated from its natural habitat in northern Africa to the coast of southern Spain, and thus is only European by the skin of its teeth.

Though not confirmed, some scientists believe that Europe, rather than Africa, was the true crucible of primate evolution during the later Cenozoic Era, and that it was only after the diversification of monkeys and apes that these primates migrated from Europe to inhabit (or repopulate) the continents with which they are most commonly identified today, Africa, Asia, and South America."There is no question that apes evolved in Africa," says David R. Begun, an anthropology professor at the University of Toronto. However, apes were on the verge of extinction on their home continent between these two dates, while flourishing in Europe. Dryopithecus and other extinct ape species appearing in Europe make a lot of sense if that's the case.


Dryopithecus was a distant Miocene forerunner of gorillas and chimpanzees. In this article, we will go through the scientific classification, characteristics, paleobiology, paleoecology, and the difference between the Dryopithecus and Ramapithecus. The genus Ramapithecus represents a branching of the dryopithecus stock that is characterised by its more advanced dentition. The dryopithecines were most likely found in forested areas.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Where was Dryopithecus found?

Answer. Dryopithecus is thought to have originated in Africa and is present as a fossil in Miocene and Pliocene deposits (23 to 2.6 million years old). Dryopithecus comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, including small, medium, and large gorillas.

2. How did Dryopithecus Go Extinct?

Answer. Dryopithecus is a genus of extinct great apes that lived between 12.5 and 11.1 million years ago in Europe's middle-late Miocene boundary (mya). European great apes likely went extinct during a drying and cooling trend in the Late Miocene which caused the retreat of warm-climate forests.

3. Which is True about Dryopithecus?

Answer. Dryopithecus africanus was found in Miocene rocks in Africa and Europe, and its fossil was discovered. It lived anywhere between 20 and 25 million years ago. It had ape-like features, but arms and legs were the same lengths. Its semi-erect stance is indicated by the heels in its feet.

4. How does Dryopithecus Live?

Answer. They may have built up fat stores for the winter because they lived in a seasonal, paratropical environment. The disappearance of European great apes is thought to have occurred during a drying and cooling trend in the Late Miocene, which resulted in the retreat of warm-climate forests.