Are Gibbons Apes?

Are gibbons apes

It is only natural that humans are fascinated by apes, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Not all of them look very similar to us, though, and when looking at a gibbon with its comically long arms you might be led to wonder: are gibbons apes? 

Yes, they are. They belong to the group of apes that are called lesser apes, which are smaller than the so-called great apes. There are two kinds of lesser apes, gibbons and siamangs, and four types of great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans.  

Both apes and monkeys belong to the order of primates. Primates are characterized, among other things, by having the ability to grasp with both their fingers and their toes, color vision, forward-facing eyes, and a large range of movement in the shoulder joint. They also usually have only one offspring at a time, grow comparably slowly, and have a long life-span.

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As opposed to a lot of other animals primates rely more on their sense of sight than their sense of smell. There are about 200 species of primates and we humans are one of them. As primates gibbons have hands made for grasping, have relatively few offspring, and live in complex social groups. 

What Is the Difference Between Apes and Monkeys? 

Gibbon
Gibbon

The two kinds of primates that humans are probably most interested in, and which often get confused, are apes and monkeys. 

The easiest way to distinguish them at the first glance is to look for a tail. Almost all monkeys – with the one exception of the Barbary macaque – have tails and apes do not. Apes are larger and have broad muscular chests and shoulder joints that allow them to swing from tree to tree, whereas monkeys mostly move by running across branches.

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Apes also have larger brains and are thus more likely to display human-like signs of intelligence like the ability to use tools, communicate via sounds and gestures, and even the ability to be trained to communicate with humans with the help of sign language. 

Gibbon
Gibbon

Do Gibbons Spend Their Whole Life In Trees? 

Not completely, but they only very rarely descend to the ground. Their anatomy is perfectly adapted to life in the trees: they are famous for their arms that are 1.5 times as long as their legs and which are perfect for grasping faraway branches or fruit and swinging from tree to tree. This form of movement – swinging from tree to tree by using only the arms – is called brachiation and gibbons use it to move through the jungle at up to 35 miles an hour. One swing can cover a distance of 50 feet! They are known as the fastest moving tree-dwelling mammal. 

They come to the ground sometimes to look for food or flee from other animals. When they move on the ground, they mostly walk on their hind legs while holding their arms up – they have to make sure not to tumble forward since their arms are so outsized in relation to their body! 

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What Do Gibbons Eat? 

Gibbons are omnivores, which means that they eat everything. Most of their diet consists of fruit and other plants, like flowers and leaves, they find in their habitat of rainforest treetops, but they also eat insects, birds, and other small animals every once in a while. Sometimes they also steal birds’ eggs from nests and eat them. 

What Is the Social Structure and Behavior of Gibbons Like? 

Gibbons are monogamous and live in small family groups that consist of a pair of adult gibbons and their young offspring. They are monogamous, which is very rare among primates! 

Gibbons are famous for their songs. Families defend their territory by threatening intruders with their loud, echoing calls. Whole families can sing quite complex songs together, couples perform coordinated duets, and both males and females also sing solo songs. 

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Do Gibbons Have Predators? 

Yes. They are the prey of big cats like tigers and clouded leopards as well as big snakes and eagles. Gibbons make warning calls to alert each other to the presence of such predators. 

Humans also hunt animals to put them in zoos, and, in some cultures, to use parts of them for medicine.  

Gibbons grooming
Gibbons grooming
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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.