Question: Sure it's just fantasy, but who would scientists put their money on in that cinematic battle of the titans, King Kong vs T. rex? Do brains and brawny arms trump giant claws and a mouthful of teeth (Forbes.Com)?
Answer: Yeah, go with the arms, smarts and nasty carnassial teeth, guesses Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner. T. rex may have bone-crushing teeth, but it has nothing to grab with but its head, of little use if a 20-ton gorilla has a hold of you. "I'd vote for Kong."
The gorilla is smarter and quicker, concurs J. David Archibald of San Diego State University. He would simply jump on the T. rex's back and break its neck.
The problem for Kong, counters John Hutchinson of the University of London's Royal Veterinary College, on Forbes.Com, is that he's TOO big. Weight scales up with volume, strength only with cross-sectional area of muscles. At 25 feet, Kong is 7 times the height of an actual silverback gorilla, putting him at 20-60 tons. If he tried to run, jump or tackle something, there's a good chance he'd simply crumple. "But OK," says Hutchinson, suspending disbelief somewhat, "in this fantastical faceoff pitting T. rex's jaws (really a V. rex), claws and tail vs. Kong's brains, hands and fists, for a short frantic fight, I'd peg this one as a draw."
Though three-theropods-against-one as in the movie could probably do in even the mighty Kong, one-on-one is another matter, adds University of Chicago anatomist and biologist Michael LaBarbera. Kong's advantage is his agility; a bipedal dinosaur has to use its tail as counterweight for its head. "To see this effect in action, get a 12-foot ladder and slip your head through at the middle with the ladder balanced at the level of your hips. Now trot across your backyard and try to turn."
In the movie, Kong dislocates the theropod's jaw. A better tactic, says LaBarbera, would be for Kong to climb on its back (avoiding hindleg claws), hold the jaws closed (jaw openers are weaker than closers — think of croc wrestlers), and go after the throat or spine with his canines. "Lions and leopards avoid gorillas for very good reasons."
Thus by this 3-0-1 tally, Kong is still King.
Question: If King Kong can "fall for" flick-chick Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) in the blockbuster new re-telling, what's this beastly world coming to? Are there real instances of interspecies love, infatuation — call it what you will?
Answer: When ethologist Konrad Lorenz raised goslings, they became "imprinted" and followed him around as if he were their mother, says Emory University's Frans B.M. de Waal, author of "Our Inner Ape." In adulthood, the geese saw people as valid mates. Also, apes raised by humans will at times show infatuations for people of the opposite gender; King Kong's behavior in the movie therefore suggests a human upbringing.
"Either that, or no gorilla females were left on the island and he just 'settled for' a human blonde."
Behavioral scientists point to many examples of unusual, emotionally bonded pairings in nature, adds Yale biological anthropologist Gary P. Aronsen. The most recent is Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise, and Owen, a young hippo rescued from the great tsunami of 2005. They are now inseparable. Koko the gorilla was truly "in love" with her kitten (whom she had named All Ball, using the American Sign Language she was taught), and was deeply depressed when it died. "Often these devoted couples come from social species and thus are keen on forming connections and relationships with other animals — and sometimes it's with whatever animal is around."
Another instance: In Kenya a lioness "adopted" several orphaned baby antelope, becoming protective and showing rage when one was eaten by other lions (ecologist Paula Kahumbu).
Jealousy can be another measure of love, says Aronsen, and there are numerous accounts of captive apes, accustomed to the attention and affection of keepers and researchers, showing immediate and sometimes violent disapproval of a wandering eye and even making threatening gestures to apparent human rivals. "All things considered, given our evolutionary bond with apes, including strikingly similar physical and behavioral cues, maybe the Kong/Darrow romance is more than just 'cinema fantastique.' "
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org, coauthors of "Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press.