RESEARCH: Gibbons plan ahead for breakfast

Gibbons plan ahead for breakfast to beat out their rivals and competitors. This is the view of scientists studying Gibbon behaviour, who maintain that the reason they plan ahead is to get the best breakfast spots. 

Scientists say that the Gibbons remember the locations of the best food and they go to these locations earlier than other animals when they want to eat fruit for breakfast.

Researcher Pengfei Fan at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and his colleagues, studied two groups of Skywalker Gibbons (Hoolock tianxing) in the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve for five years. The researchers followed the Gibbons and recorded the times they go looking for breakfast.

Skywalker Gibbons are arboreal (tree-living) primates in the Hylobatidae family of Gibbons. They are native to Myanmar and south-western China. 

The researchers found that the Gibbons woke up early when they wanted fruit for breakfast, showing that they planned to go earlier than their competitors. The Gibbons foraged for food over a range of 1-3 square kilometres, feeding on a variety of fruits and leaves. On average, they travelled 130 metres to trees where they ate fruit, and 100 metres to trees where they ate leaves. When they intended to eat fruit, the two groups of Gibbons left their sleeping areas (in the trees) about half an hour to one hour earlier compared with when they intended to feed on leaves. 

The researchers also found that the Gibbons travelled more quickly when they went to the fruit trees, suggesting that they knew where the trees were and wanted to get the best spots. When it rained, or the temperature was cooler the night before, they delayed their departure. Also, larger groups often delayed their departure while they waited for everyone to get ready, and they were less decisive about where to go – to eat fruit or to eat leaves. Smaller groups set off earlier, because they got ready quickly – and they reached consensus quickly about their planned route.

There were fewer fruit trees in the area and the Gibbons had lots of competitors for food – i.e., many different species of animals. The researchers said it was beneficial for the Gibbons to arrive at the fruit trees early. 

The research findings suggest that Skywalker Gibbons are intelligent and able to plan their day for their benefit. They plan to get up early, they plan their travel routes, they plan to travel quickly, they plan not to stop along the way, and they plan to leave behind other food sources along the route because they want the best food. 

Skywalker Gibbon (Source: Pengfei Fan)
Agile Gibbon

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2023.0430

Photographer: Martina Nicolls and researcher Pengfei Fan


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