King Kong Island Home Is Pure Fantasy, Ecology Experts Say

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
December 14, 2005

The massive star of the new movie King Kong, which opens today, effectively apes real gorillas. But the bizarre assortment of wildlife on the creature's island home seems to be from out of this world.

As seen in the remake of the 1933 film classic, Skull Island is supposed to lie somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

In the island's jungles roam a wide array of dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex; aggressive, 3-foot (90-centimeter) cockroaches; bloodthirsty car-size crabs; and, of course, Kong, a 25-foot-tall (8-meter-tall) silverback gorilla who lives alone in his mountain hideaway.

It's a world that violates most of modern science's evolutionary rules.

"The notion that dinosaurs could survive on a tiny mid-oceanic island is preposterous," said John Terborgh, a professor of environmental science at Duke University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Islands, even moderately large ones, are notoriously devoid of large predators," he said. "The two largest predators on Cuba are a lizard and the red-tailed hawk. The whole notion of apex predators on islands is fantasy."

Island Laboratory

The giant gorilla presumably evolved in isolation on Skull Island, though this is never explained in the movie.

Islands, as Charles Darwin said, appear to be nature's laboratory, where experiments are carried out with species that travel from the mainland.

"The first experiment is titled, Can you survive on this place that is different in every way from the mainland or other island from whence you came?" marine science expert Dennis Kelly said. "Most species probably do not survive this experiment."

But those that do survive often change over time to fill an ecological niche that exists on those islands.

"If a species is small—usually very small—it can actually increase in size [via a phenomenon] called gigantism," said Kelly, a professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California.

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