Gibbon, the smallest ape. Of the nine species, most are found in Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago. Gibbons are 17 to 35 inches (43 to 90 cm) long and weigh up to 25 pounds (11 kg). Their hands touch the ground when they stand erect. Gibbons are black or various shades of gray, brown, or yellow; in some species, males are darker than females. Gibbons live in trees and use their arms to move from branch to branch. They feed chiefly on leaves, fruit, insects, and small birds.

GibbonsGibbons live in trees and use their arms to move from branch to branch.

Gibbons live in small family groups consisting of a male and female with their offspring. A young gibbon clings to its mother's fur for about the first four months of its life. A gibbon leaves its parents when sexually mature, at about six years of age. Gibbons live about 25 years.

Gibbons make up the family Hylobatidae. Typical species include the crested gibbon, Hylobates concolor; the siamang, Symphalangus syndactylus; and the white-handed gibbon, H. lar.

Why Do Gibbons "Sing"?

Gibbons are well known for their ability to “sing.” Songs vary from species to species, and males and females of the same species have different songs. By listening for differences in the songs, researchers are able to tell from a distance what kind of gibbon is singing.

Calls are usually sung as a “duet” by an adult male and adult female, with their offspring sometimes joining in. The female’s part is usually the longest. It may be made up of whoops, booms, barks, or high-pitched calls. From start to end, the song may last for several minutes.

Researchers think that the songs are meant to help claim a pair’s territory. The female’s part of the song informs other groups that the area is taken, and the male’s part of the song warns intruders to stay away.

How Do Gibbons Get Around?

Gibbons live in the tops of trees and rarely come to the ground. They do most of their traveling through the trees by swinging from branch to branch. They use their hands like hooks, rather than using them to grasp the tree limb.

Gibbons are the star acrobats of the apes. They often make swings as long as 10 feet (3 meters). A human child traveling across a set of horizontal monkey bars on the playground moves in a similar way, but for much shorter distances.

Gibbons also walk on top of tree branches using only their legs, similar to the way human beings walk on the ground.

The gibbon forelimbThe gibbon forelimb is specially adapted to enable the animal to swing from tree branch to tree branch.
Do Gibbons Live In Family Groups?

Gibbons live in family groups that usually consist of a male, a female, and their young, of which there can be as many as four. The offspring stay with their parents until they are about 5 to 6 years old. At that time, they begin to look for mates and territories of their own. They may spend several years searching for a mate.

A new gibbon may be born to parents about every 2 to 3 years. Only one baby is born at a time. For the first year of its life, the mother guards a baby closely. In some species, the mother continues to be the main caretaker in the young gibbon’s second year. However, in other species, the father will take over.

More so than any other apes, male and female gibbons that have mated with each other remain as a couple, caring for their offspring. Gibbons can live for up to 40 years in the wild.

Does Each Gibbon Family Have Its Own Territory?

A gibbon family has a small, stable territory, which it defends. But gibbons rarely use physical contact to do so. Instead, they use calls or songs to warn other gibbons to stay away.

A family’s territory must be large enough to provide “necessities.” Necessities include separate sleeping trees for all family members and plenty of food, even during times when food is most scarce.

Territories for these apes vary in size, depending on species and location. The smallest ranges are about 25 acres (10 hectares) and the largest are about 130 acres (53 hectares).