Godzilla vs. King: A functional morphologist uses science to select a winner
Hollywood has chosen a winner, but what does science say? Greetings from Warner Bros. Entertainment 2021 movie “Godzilla vs. King” pits the two most iconic movie monsters of all time. And fans are now choosing pages. Even the most amazing creatures have some basis in scientific reality, so the natural world is a good place to see to better understand movie monsters. I study functional morphology ̵
1; how skeletal and tissue properties allow animals to move – and evolution in extinct animals. I’m also a big fan of monster movies. In the end, this is a battle between a giant reptile and a giant primate, and there are relative biological advantages and disadvantages that each would have. The research I do on morphology and biomechanics can tell us a lot about this battle and can help you decide – #TeamGodzilla or #TeamKong? Bigger Than Life First, it is important to recognize that both King and Godzilla are definitely far beyond the realm of biological possibility. This is due to sheer size and the laws of physics. Their hearts could not pump blood to the head, they would have temperature control problems, and it would take too long for nerve signals from the brain to reach distant parts of the body – to name a few problems. However, let’s assume that Godzilla and King are somehow able to overcome these size limitations – perhaps because of their radiation exposure, they have distinctive mutations and properties. Based on how they look on the big screen, let’s explore the observable differences that can be useful in a match. King: the best of monkey and human At first glance, King is a colossal primate – but he is not just a giant gorilla. King has a mixture of both gorilla and human physical characteristics. Cliff / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY One of the most striking things about King is his upright, two-legged stance – he walks mostly on two legs, unlike other living non-human monkeys. This ability may indicate a close evolutionary relationship with the only living upright monkey, humans – or his upright attitude may be the result of convergent evolution. Regardless, like us, King has thick muscular legs aimed at walking and running, and large free arms with gripping hands so he can use tools. Mankind’s bipedal, upright posture is unique in the animal kingdom and provides a number of biomechanical abilities that King can share. For example, human torsos are very flexible and especially good at rotation. This feature – in addition to the loose shoulder belt – makes humans the best throwers in the animal kingdom. Throwing is useful in a match, and King can probably throw with the best of them. The high back of bones on top of a gorilla’s skull helps it bite with incredible force. Didier Descouens / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA Kong is of course also massive. He certainly dwarfs the largest known primate, an extinct orangutan relative called Gigantopithecus that was slightly larger than modern gorillas. King also has many gorilla-like attributes, including long muscular arms, a short snout with large canines and a high sagittal comb – a bony back of the head that would be the anchor point for some exceptionally strong jaw muscles. King, strong, agile, comfortable on land and with unsurpassed ability to use tools and throw, King would be a brutal force in a fight. Godzilla’s upright posture is unique among lizards and dinosaurs. The figure shows what he would look like with a dinosaur attitude. Kenneth Carpenter / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA Godzilla: An aquatic lizard to be reckoned with Godzilla appears to be a giant, semi-quaternary reptile. Like King, Godzilla has the traits of a few different species. Recent Godzilla movies show him a decent mobile on land, but apparently much more comfortable in the water despite his lack of obvious water features. Interestingly, Godzilla is depicted with gills on her neck – a trait that vertebrates on land lost after they came out of the ocean about 370 million years ago. Given Godzilla’s terrestrial traits, it is likely that his species has ancestors of reptiles from the land, and developed a mostly aquatic lifestyle – such as sea turtles or sea snakes, which can actually absorb oxygen through the skin in water. Godzilla can have unique recurring gills. Dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex had large muscles that connect the powerful tails with the hips and upper legs. Dr. Scott Hartman, CC BY-ND Godzilla’s tail is what really sets him apart from King. It is massive, and anchored and moved by large muscles attached to the legs, hips and lower back. Dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus rex stood horizontally and used their tails to balance and to help them walk and run. Godzilla, on the other hand, stands vertically and holds its tail low to the ground, probably for a different type of balance. This vertical stance is unique to a two-legged reptile and more like a standing kangaroo. Godzilla stands on two muscular, pillar-like legs resembling a sauropod dinosaur. These would provide stability and help support his gigantic mass, but would also strengthen the strength of his tail. In addition to its powerful tail, Godzilla carries three rows of sharp spikes that go down the back, thick, scaly skin, a relatively small head full of carnivorous teeth and free arms with gripping hands, all built on a muscular body. All in all, Godzilla is a scary and intimidating opponent. King is faster and can use tools, but Godzilla is stronger and has armored skin. Tim Simpson / Flickr, CC BY-NC Ready, fight! So now that we’ve taken a closer look at how Godzilla and King are built, let’s imagine who can win a battle. Although Kong is slightly smaller than Godzilla, both are more or less comparable and have no clear advantage here. So what about their fighting skills? Godzilla is likely to favor his rugged tail for both offense and defense – much like modern large lizards that use their strong tails as whips. Scales up the strength to the size of Godzilla, and the tail becomes a deadly weapon – which he has used before. However, Kong is more comfortable on land, faster and more agile, can use his strong legs to jump, and has much stronger arms than Godzilla – Kong probably packs a walloping punch. And as a monkey, Kong would probably also use tools to some degree and even be able to take advantage of the casting ability. Both will have a barely bitten, with Kong likely to get a small advantage. However, Godzilla’s bite is by no means weak, and all his teeth are penetrating the flesh, like crocodile and lizard teeth. On defense, Godzilla has the edge, with thick scaly skin and sharp spikes. He can even behave like a porcupine, turning his back on a rapidly imminent threat. However, the king’s superior agility on land should also be able to give him some protection. I will admit that I am #TeamGodzilla, but it’s very close. I can give Kong a small edge in broad terrestrial combat capability, but Godzilla’s general mass, defense and tail would be difficult to overpower. And so that we do not forget, the tipping point for Godzilla is that he has atomic breathing! However, until scientists find evidence of a dinosaur or an animal with something like that, I have to reserve myself for my scientific judgment. No matter who comes out victorious, this fight will be one for the times, and I am excited about both researcher and monster film fan. This article is republished from The Conversation, an ideal news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Kiersten Formoso, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Read more: Women in horror: Not victims The strange connection between Bobby Kennedy’s death and Scooby-Doo Kiersten Formoso receives support from the National Science Foundation, the Paleontological Society and the Evolving Earth Foundation.