Distribution in Southeast Asia
Gibbons are apes in the family Hylobatidae. The family historically
contained one genus, but now is split into four genera and 18 species.
Gibbons occur in tropical and subtropical rainforests from eastern
Bangladesh and northeast
India to southern
China and Indonesia
(including the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, and Java).
Also called the smaller apes or lesser apes, gibbons differ from
great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and humans) in
being smaller, exhibiting low sexual dimorphism, and not making nests.
In certain anatomical details, they superficially more closely
resemble monkeys than great apes do, but like all apes, gibbons are
tailless. Unlike most of the great apes, gibbons frequently form
long-term pair bonds. Their primary mode of locomotion, brachiation,
involves swinging from branch to branch for distances up to 15 m
(50 ft), at speeds as high as 55 km/h (34 mph). They
can also make leaps up to 8 m (26 ft), and walk bipedally
with their arms raised for balance. They are the fastest and most
agile of all tree-dwelling, nonflying mammals.
Depending on species and sex, gibbons' fur coloration varies from dark
to light brown shades, and any shade between black and white, though a
completely "white" gibbon is rare.
Gibbon species include the siamang, the white-handed or lar gibbon,
and the hoolock gibbons.
1 Evolutionary history
2 Physical description
5 Conservation status
6 In traditional Chinese culture
8 External links
Whole genome molecular dating analyses indicate that the gibbon
lineage diverged from that of great apes around 16.8 million years ago
(Mya) (95% confidence interval: 15.9 – 17.6 Mya; given a divergence
of 29 Mya from monkeys). Adaptive divergence associated with
chromosomal rearrangements led to rapid radiation of the four genera
5-7 Mya. Each genus comprises a distinct, well-delineated lineage, but
the sequence and timing of divergences among these genera has been
hard to resolve, even with whole genome data, due to radiative
speciations and extensive incomplete lineage sorting. A recent
coalescent-based species tree analysis of genome-scale datasets
suggests a phylogeny for the four genera ordered as (Hylobates,
(Nomascus, (Hoolock, Symphalangus))). At the species level,
estimates from mitochondrial DNA genome analyses suggest that
Hylobates pileatus diverged from H. lar and H. agilis around 3.9 Mya,
and H. lar and H. agilis separated around 3.3 Mya. Whole genome
analysis suggests divergence of
Hylobates pileatus from Hylobates
moloch 1.5-3.0 Mya. The extinct
Bunopithecus sericus is a gibbon or
gibbon-like ape which, until recently, was thought to be closely
related to the hoolock gibbons.
Hominoid family tree
Northern white-cheeked gibbon,
Lar gibbon (
The family is divided into four genera based on their diploid
Nomascus (52), and
Family Hylobatidae: gibbons
Western hoolock gibbon, H. hoolock
Eastern hoolock gibbon, H. leuconedys
Skywalker hoolock gibbon, H. tianxing
Genus Hylobates: dwarf gibbons
Lar gibbon or white-handed gibbon, H. lar
Malaysian lar gibbon, H. l. lar
Carpenter's lar gibbon, H. l. carpenteri
Central lar gibbon, H. l. entelloides
Sumatran lar gibbon, H. l. vestitus
Yunnan lar gibbon, H. l. yunnanensis
Bornean white-bearded gibbon, H. albibarbis
Agile gibbon or black-handed gibbon, H. agilis
Müller's Bornean gibbon, H. muelleri
Müller's grey gibbon, H. m. muelleri
Abbott's grey gibbon, H. m. abbotti
Northern grey gibbon, H. m. funereus
Silvery gibbon, H. moloch
Western silvery gibbon or western Javan gibbon, H. m. moloch
Eastern silvery gibbon or central Javan gibbon, H. m. pongoalsoni
Pileated gibbon or capped gibbon, H. pileatus
Kloss's gibbon, Mentawai gibbon or bilou, H. klossii
Siamang, S. syndactylus
Genus Nomascus: crested gibbons
Northern buffed-cheeked gibbon, N. annamensis
Concolor or black crested gibbon, N. concolor
N. c. concolor
N. c. lu
N. c. jingdongensis
N. c. furvogaster
Eastern black crested gibbon
Eastern black crested gibbon or Cao Vit black crested gibbon, N.
Hainan black crested gibbon, N. hainanus
Northern white-cheeked gibbon, N. leucogenys
Southern white-cheeked gibbon, N. siki
Yellow-cheeked gibbon, N. gabriellae
Many gibbons are hard to identify based on fur coloration, so are
identified either by song or genetics. These morphological
ambiguities have led to hybrids in zoos. Zoos often receive gibbons of
unknown origin, so they rely on morphological variation or labels that
are impossible to verify to assign species and subspecies names, so
separate species of gibbons commonly are misidentified and housed
together. Interspecific hybrids, hybrids within a genus, are also
suspected to occur in wild gibbons where their ranges overlap.
However, no records exist of fertile hybrids between different gibbon
genera, either in the wild or in captivity.
One unique aspect of a gibbon's anatomy is the wrist, which functions
something like a ball and socket joint, allowing for biaxial movement.
This greatly reduces the amount of energy needed in the upper arm and
torso, while also reducing stress on the shoulder joint. Gibbons also
have long hands and feet, with a deep cleft between the first and
second digits of their hands. Their fur is usually black, gray, or
brownish, often with white markings on hands, feet, and face. Some
species have an enlarged throat sac, which inflates and serves as a
resonating chamber when the animals call. This structure can become
quite large in some species, sometimes equaling the size of the
animal's head. Their voices are much more powerful than that of any
human singer, although they are at best half a man's height.
Gibbon skulls and teeth resemble those of the great apes, and their
noses are similar to those of all catarrhine primates. The dental
formula is 188.8.131.52.1.2.3  The siamang, which is the largest of
the 17 species, is distinguished by having two fingers on each foot
stuck together, hence the generic and species names
Like all primates, gibbons are social animals. They are strongly
territorial, and defend their boundaries with vigorous visual and
vocal displays. The vocal element, which can often be heard for
distances up to 1 km (0.6 mi), consists of a duet between a
mated pair, with their young sometimes joining in. In most species,
males and some females sing solos to attract mates, as well as
advertise their territories. The song can be used to identify not
only which species of gibbon is singing, but also the area from which
Gibbons often retain the same mate for life, although they do not
always remain sexually monogamous. In addition to extra-pair
copulations, pair-bonded gibbons occasionally "divorce."
Gibbons are among nature's best brachiators. Their ball-and-socket
wrist joints allow them unmatched speed and accuracy when swinging
through trees. Nonetheless, their mode of transportation can lead to
hazards when a branch breaks or a hand slips, and researchers estimate
that the majority of gibbons suffer bone fractures one or more times
during their lifetimes. They are the fastest and most agile of all
tree-dwelling, nonflying mammals.
Gibbons' diets are about 60% fruit-based, but they also consume
twigs, leaves, insects, flowers, and occasionally bird eggs.
Most species are endangered, primarily due to degradation or loss of
their forest habitats. On the island of
Phuket in Thailand, a
Gibbon Rehabilitation Center rescues gibbons that were
kept in captivity, and are being released back into the wild. The
IUCN Species Survival Commission
Primate Specialist Group announced
2015 to be the Year of the Gibbon and initiated events to be held
around the world in zoos to promote awareness of the status of
In traditional Chinese culture
Further information: Monkeys in Chinese culture
Two gibbons in an oak tree by the
Song dynasty painter Yì Yuánjí
Robert van Gulik
Robert van Gulik concluded gibbons were widespread in
central and southern
China until at least the Song dynasty, and
furthermore, based on an analysis of references to primates in Chinese
poetry and other literature and their portrayal in Chinese paintings,
the Chinese word yuán (猿) referred specifically to gibbons until
they were extirpated throughout most of the country due to habitat
destruction (circa 14th century). In modern usage, however, yuán is a
generic word for ape. Early Chinese writers viewed the "noble"
gibbons, gracefully moving high in the treetops, as the "gentlemen"
(jūnzǐ, 君子) of the forests, in contrast to the greedy macaques,
attracted by human food. The Taoists ascribed occult properties to
gibbons, believing them to be able to live for several hundred years
and to turn into humans.
Gibbon figurines as old as from the fourth to third centuries BCE (the
Zhou dynasty) have been found in China. Later on, gibbons became a
popular object for Chinese painters, especially during the Song
dynasty and early Yuan dynasty, when Yì Yuánjí and Mùqī Fǎcháng
excelled in painting these apes. From Chinese cultural influence, the
Zen motif of the "gibbon grasping at the reflection of the moon in the
water" became popular in Japanese art, as well, though gibbons have
never occurred naturally in Japan.
^ a b Groves, C.P. (2005). Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. Mammal
Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.).
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 178–181.
ISBN 0-801-88221-4. OCLC 62265494.
^ a b c Mootnick, A.; Groves, C. P. (2005). "A new generic name for
the hoolock gibbon (Hylobatidae)". International Journal of
Primatology. 26 (4): 971–976. doi:10.1007/s10764-005-5332-4.
Gibbon Conservation Center Working to Save South Asia's Hoolock
Gibbons & Other "Small Apes"". National Geographic =. Retrieved 14
^ "Gibbon". a-z animals. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
^ a b c d Carbone, Lucia; et al. (2014). "
Gibbon genome and the fast
karyotype evolution of small apes". Nature. 513 (11 Sept 2014):
195–201. doi:10.1038/nature13679. PMC 4249732 .
^ a b Matsudaira K, Ishida T (2010) Phylogenetic relationships and
divergence dates of the whole mitochondrial genome sequences among
three gibbon genera. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol.
^ Shi, Cheng-Min; Yang, Ziheng (January 2018). "Coalescent-Based
Analyses of Genomic Sequence Data Provide a Robust Resolution of
Phylogenetic Relationships among Major Groups of Gibbons". Molecular
Biology and Evolution. 35 (1): 159–179.
^ a b Geissmann, Thomas (December 1995). "
Gibbon systematics and
species identification" (PDF). International Zoo News. 42: 467–501.
^ Geissmann, Thomas. "
Gibbon Systematics and Species Identification"
(web version). Ch.3: "Adopting a Systematic Framework" Retrieved:
^ Brown, Georgia (11 January 2017). "New species of gibbon discovered
in China". The Guardian.
^ Tenaza, R. (1984). "Songs of hybrid gibbons (
Hylobates lar × H.
muelleri)". American Journal of Primatology. 8 (3): 249–253.
^ Sugawara, K. (1979). "Sociological study of a wild group of hybrid
baboons between Papio anubis and P. hamadryas in the Awash Valley,
Ethiopia". Primates. 20 (1): 21–56. doi:10.1007/BF02373827.
^ Lull, Richard Swann (1921). "Seventy Seven". Organic Evolution.
Newyork: The Macmillan Company. pp. 641–677.
^ Myers, P. 2000. Family Hylobatidae,
Animal Diversity Web. Accessed
April 05, 2011-04-05.
^ Geissmann, T. (2011). "Typical Characteristics".
Lab. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
^ Clarke E, Reichard UH, Zuberbühler K (2006). Emery N, ed. "The
Syntax and Meaning of Wild
Gibbon Songs". PLoS ONE. 1 (1): e73.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000073. PMC 1762393 .
^ Glover, Hilary. Recognizing gibbons from their regional accents,
BioMed Central, EurekAlert.org, 6 February 2011.
^ Reichard, U (1995). "Extra-pair copulations in a monogamous gibbon
Hylobates lar)". Ethology. 100 (2): 99–112.
^ Briggs, Mike; Briggs, Peggy (2005). The Encyclopedia of World
Wildlife. Parragon. p. 146. ISBN 1405456809.
^ a b Attenborough, David. Life of Mammals, "Episode 8: Life in the
Trees", BBC Warner, 2003.
Monkey Worlds Retrieved Feb-12-2015
^ A-Z Animals: GIbbon Retrieved Feb-12-2015
^ Mittermeier, Russell. "Letter of Endorsement - Year of the Gibbon"
(PDF). IUCN SSC PSG Section on Small Apes. IUCN SSC
Group. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
^ "Year of the
Gibbon - Events". IUCN SSC PSG Section on Small Apes.
IUCN SSC PSG Section on Small Apes. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
^ van Gulik, Robert. "The gibbon in China. An essay in Chinese animal
lore." E. J. Brill, Leiden, Holland. (1967). Brief summary
^ Geissmann, Thomas. "
Gibbon paintings in China, Japan, and Korea:
Historical distribution, production rate and context" Archived
2008-12-17 at the Wayback Machine.,
Gibbon Journal, No. 4, May 2008.
(includes color reproductions of a large number of gibbon paintings by
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Definitions from Wiktionary
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Taxonomy from Wikispecies
IUCN SSC PSG Section on Small Apes
Gibbon Conservation Center
Gibbon Network and Research Lab
Gibbon Conservation Alliance
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
View the nomLeu3 genome assembly in the UCSC Genome Browser.
Extant primate families
Extant species of family Hylobatidae (Gibbons)
Lar gibbon (H. lar)
Agile gibbon (H. agilis)
Bornean white-bearded gibbon
Bornean white-bearded gibbon (H. albibarbis)
Müller's Bornean gibbon
Müller's Bornean gibbon (H. muelleri)
Silvery gibbon (H. moloch)
Pileated gibbon (H. pileatus)
Kloss's gibbon (H. klossii)
Western hoolock gibbon
Western hoolock gibbon (H. hoolock)
Eastern hoolock gibbon
Eastern hoolock gibbon (H. leuconedys)
Skywalker hoolock gibbon (H. tianxing)
Siamang (S. syndactylus)
Northern buffed-cheeked gibbon (N. annamensis)
Black crested gibbon
Black crested gibbon (N. concolor)
Eastern black brested gibbon (N. nasutus)
Northern white-cheeked gibbon
Northern white-cheeked gibbon (N. leucogenys)
Yellow-cheeked gibbon (N. gabriellae)
Southern white-cheeked gibbon
Southern white-cheeked gibbon (N. siki)
Extant ape species
Human (Homo sapiens)
Chimpanzee (Pan spp.)
Bonobo (Pan paniscus)
Common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)
Western gorilla (
Eastern gorilla (
Orangutan (Pongo spp.)
Bornean orangutan (Pongo abelii)
Sumatran orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
Gibbon (family: Hylobatidae)
Study of apes
Chimpanzee genome project
Human genome project
Neanderthal genome project
Lone Drøscher Nielsen
Primate Learning Sanctuary
Legal and social status
List of individual apes
List of individual apes (non-human)
Apes in space (non-human)
Chimpanzee–human last common ancestor
List of fictional primates (non-human)