Facts About Gibbons

Gibbons are small apes, known for their acrobatic skills and bipedal mode of locomotion. Of the several facts about these primates that make them so popular, the fact that they are found sleeping in upright position is perhaps the most fascinating.
Gibbons are popular zoo exhibits because of their arm-swinging skills. People have been intrigued by their ability to swing with ease. Even scientists have been fascinated by their amazing acrobatic abilities. Their agility in forest tree tops, leaves everybody stupefied. It is worth noting that gibbons are not monkeys, but are smaller apes. The lack of tail and presence of rotatory shoulder blades back the fact. If they are mistaken for monkeys, it's because their small and slender appearance bears semblance to them.

Taxonomic Classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Primates
  • Suborder: Haplorhini
  • Infraorder: Catarrhini
  • Family: Hylobatidae
  • Genera: Nomascus, Symphalangus, Hoolock, Hylobates
The 15 extant species of gibbons are placed under four genera: Nomascus, Symphalangus, Hoolock, and Hylobates.

Appearance
Also known as smaller apes, gibbons are relatively small, lightweight, agile, and slender animals with a small, round head, flat face, long arms, long fingers, and short thumbs. Other characteristic traits of these species include the ball and socket joint in their wrist, broad chest, grasping hands and feet, absence of tail, and the presence of opposing digits. Their body is covered with dense, fluffy, light to dark brown fur. It envelopes most parts of their body, except their face, fingers, palms, soles, and armpits. Their small jaws feature sharp canine teeth. Female gibbons are generally heavier than their male counterparts.

Habitat
Gibbons spend most of their time swinging in trees. Thus, they are classified as arboreal animals. They are found in the wild in the tropical and subtropical rainforests of South, Southeast, and East Asia. Countries like China, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Cambodia have the privilege of housing small populations of gibbons.

Shelter
Unlike the greater apes, gibbons do not build nests. They can sleep in the sitting position, as they possess fleshy pads, devoid of nerves, attached to the hip bones, called ischial callosities. They are found sleeping in sitting position in the forks of branches, with their heads tucked into their laps and their long arms wrapped around their knees. Groups of gibbons have their usual sleeping trees in which they assemble at about 1600 - 1800 hours. They are diurnal primates, active for about ten and a half hours a day.

Diet
Gibbons mostly enjoy fruits, which they consume during their hunt among the trees during the day. They also munch on tender shoots, leaves, seeds, barks, and flowers. Eggs and insects are also part of their diet.

Locomotion
Their long arms enable them to swing from one branch to another or even one tree to another. They can remain suspended by their hands, as their long fingers enable them to get a good grasp on the branch by acting like a hook. This arm-swinging movement is called brachiation. It enables them to swing distances of about 50 feet in trees as high as 200 feet, at a speed of about 35 mph.

Besides swinging, these primates are also known to resort to bipedal locomotion. They walk on their feet with their arm assisting to maintain balance. They often exert their body weight on their hands and then swing their legs. They are not known to swim though, and thus avoid water.

We wouldn't be surprised if you feel like keeping them as pets. However, we would like to caution you against it, as keeping gibbons or other primates for that matter, as pets is not a good idea. Primates are meant to be in the wild and confining them to an enclosure is simply being unfair.