Video: Gold-Medal Gibbons

Credit: The Royal Society, Submitted by Anthony Channon

Though it's unlikely that an Ancient Greek ever laid eyes on a gibbon—a small, long-limbed ape from the rainforests of Southeast Asia—the two have something in common: swinging their arms forward to increase the distance that they can jump. But while Greek Olympians had the help of stone or metal hand weights known as halteres, gibbons leap up to 10 meters without assistance. Videos of two captive white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar ) leaping from one branch of a jungle gym to another reveal that the apes break the record for work per mass performed in a single movement by any other species to date. If the gibbons used this energy to jump vertically, they could reach a height of 3.5 meters versus the 0.6 meters humans are capable of, researchers report today in Biology Letters. Gibbons hit a size "sweet-spot," the researchers say, where they are big enough that they don't need energy-storing adaptations—like the elongated muscles of frogs or elastic exoskeletons of insects—to power jumps, but not so big that navigating through the forest canopy is dangerous. So as far as leaping goes, this ape takes the gold.

See more Videos.