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A siamang gibbon The gibbons are the lesser apes, to distinguish them from the great apes—chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas. Gibbons are smaller and less intelligent than the great apes. All species of gibbon, including the siamang, live in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. They hang from the trees, moving each powerful arm in turn to swing their bodies along at high speed, a way of moving called brachiation. Like all apes, gibbons are tail-less, so do not possess the prehensile tail, or "fifth limb" that some monkeys use to get from branch to branch. They feed mostly on fruit, but will also eat leaves, shoots and insects.

Lar gibbon, Southeast Asia, up to 58 cm (23 inches) tall,
A pileated gibbon swings through the trees by brachiation.


Gibbons travel through the trees of their rainforest home by brachiation: swinging from branch to branch sometimes up to 15 metres (50 feet) apart at speeds of up to 55 km/h (about 35 mph). The flexible ball-and-socket joints in their wrists reduces the amount of effort needed by their upper arms, giving them great power and accuracy when swinging through trees. A gibbon's arms are particularly long and they have hooked-shaped hands for grasping branches. Occasionally, though, branches break or hands slip, leading to falls. Most gibbons suffer bone breakages during their lifetimes.

Gibbons are the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling mammals.

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