Gorilla Families


A gorilla family is called a troop. It is the main social unit of gorillas. Troops range in size from 5 to 30 gorillas.

The head of each family is an adult male gorilla called a silverback. As a male grows older and stronger, the hair on his back slowly turns gray. By the time he has grown old enough to take command of a family, a male’s back may be almost totally gray—and this is where we get the name “silverback.”

Life in a gorilla family is usually very peaceful. The troop spends its days slowly wandering from place to place, eating as it goes.

At the end of every day, gorillas build nests for sleeping. They may build them on the ground or up in trees, and they use whatever materials happen to be handy.

The silverback is the strongest male in a gorilla group. It is his responsibility to protect the other members of the group if the need arises. For this reason, silverbacks are more aggressive than other gorillas. A silverback can get very angry very fast.

Every gorilla has its place in the troop. The “boss” is the oldest male silverback. He may have several assistants that are called blackbacks.

Females with babies have higher status than females that don’t have them. There are usually twice as many females in a troop as males.

When a gorilla troop moves from place to place, the silverback usually takes the lead, followed by the other males, and then by the females. Wherever the leading silverback wants to go, the other members of the troop will follow.

Like people, gorillas use sounds and facial expressions to let others know what they are thinking and feeling. Here are some of the expressions that gorillas use. Can you tell what they are expressing?

In general, gorillas in a troop treat each other with kindness and consideration. Even the powerful silverback may show gentleness and patience with the young.