A bit of gibbon take is all a super-ape needs

Scientists on Wednesday said they had uncovered the secret behind the extraordinary jumping ability of the white-handed gibbon, capable in the wild of leaping across more than 10 metres (33 feet) in gaps in the forest canopy.

Using high-speed cameras and laser measurement, researchers recorded two captive gibbons - one an adult male, the other a juvenile female - as they jumped between trunks at a wildlife park in Belgium.

They found the apes were able, in a single movement, to accelerate their bodies to a stunning 8.3 metres per second - nearly 30 kilometres (19 miles) an hour - in order to make a vertical jump of 3.5 metres (11.4 feet).

To achieve this performance, the gibbon (Hylobates lar) needs to muster a reserve of pent-up energy and release it efficiently in a jolt through its muscles, tendons and skeletons.

But the gibbon's biomechanics are not those of specialised leapers, like the locust, the flea and bushbaby, whose anatomies have been been sculpted by evolution to make them super-jumpers.

The ape, a native of tropical forests in Southeast Asia, does the trick through a mixture of resources, the investigators believe.

One is to use its long and heavy arms, which account for 17 percent of body mass compared to 11 percent of humans.

The ape crouches and then swings its hook-handed arms forward during takeoff. This causes its centre of mass to shift forwards at the moment of lift, providing it with a huge onward push.

The swinging movement is not unique. In fact, pentathletes in ancient Greece used to artificially add mass to their forelimbs by holding weights, called halteres, to increase their distance when they did standing jumps.

Where the gibbon particularly scores, though, is combining the arm swing with a large counter-movement in the trunk and hind limbs before the jump-off, stretching the muscles and tendons so that they give it a spring-like lift.

The study, headed by Anthony Channon of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, north of London, appears in the British journal Biology Letters.

"The gibbons' unusual morphology facilitates a division of labour among the hind limbs, forelimbs and trunk, resulting in modest power requirements compared with more specialised leapers," it says.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific