The Siamang, forest acrobat

Musealia - the Siamang, Forest Acrobat

Every month, Sorbonne University introduces its community and the general public to an object from its heritage collections.
This month, discover a siamang specimen preserved in the zoology collection. Stuffed and mounted in the 19th century in a bipedal position and leaning on a stick, this monkey is in fact one of the animals best adapted to rapid brachiation* at the top of forests. 

The Musealia cycle is run by the Sorbonne University Library, and in particular by its Heritage Centre.
 

The Siamang

Forgotten in storage for many years, a mounted monkey suddenly aroused interest following the move of the zoology collection to a new location. The siamang, a related species of gibbons, lives in the canopy of the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

The knowledge of the existence of the siamang was late in Europe, and it was Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier who first spoke of it in 1821. They both thought that it was probably a type of gibbon, but certain features, such as the direction of the forearm hair and the existence of a large laryngeal pocket, brought the species closer to the orangutan. The only distinctive feature was the joining of the index and middle fingers of the feet by a membrane down to the last phalanx, which is why Syndactyl was the first name proposed for the species.

The origin of the specimen at Sorbonne University was unknown. Fortunately, a note found in the National Archives revealed the missing information. In 1826, the Faculty of Sciences paid 120 francs for the purchase of a "mounted syndactyl". The author was Florent Prévost, the first taxidermist at the Sorbonne. 

The naturalization of the skin, in a bipedal position and leaning on a stick, is strongly reminiscent of Buffon's jocko.

Siamang full body

The description of the behavior of siamangs that Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier made in their book was:
"(...) Their bodies, too high and too heavy for their short and slender thighs, bend forward, and, with their two arms acting as stilts, they move forward in jerks."

A very sad portrait for one of the animals best adapted to the rapid brachiation at the top of the forests! Obviously, in the 1820s, the naturalist approach had not yet entered the study of animals at university level...

By Santiago Aragon, MCU and head of the zoology collection at Sorbonne University.

*Brachiation: the manner in which primates swing from tree limb to tree limb using only their arms.
 

Technical Data Sheet

•    Name/Type: Naturalized Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus)
•    Inventory Number: Reserve-421
•    Description: Antique taxidermy on wooden board (W. 50 cm; H. 95 cm; D. 55 cm)
•    Date: 1826
•    Place of conservation: Zoology Collection
 

Bibliography

•    Etienne GEOFFROY SAINT-HILAIRE et Frédéric CUVIER, "Le Siamang" dans Etienne GEOFFROY SAINT-HILAIRE et Frédéric CUVIER, Histoire naturelle des mammifères […], Paris, Lasteyrie, 1821.
•    Santiago ARAGON, "Collections pédagogiques universitaires et construction de savoirs naturalistes", dans Dominique JUHE-BEAULATON, Vincent LEBLAN (sous la dir.), Le spécimen et le collecteur. Savoirs naturalistes, pouvoirs et altérités (XVIIIe-XXe siècles), Paris, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, 2018, pp. 250-275 (Archives ; 27).

Courses

Discover our courses catalog

Medicine

The Faculty of Medicine teaches the 3 cycles of medical studies: from PASS (integrated into the faculty) to the 3rd cycle including DES, DESC, DU and DIU. The lessons are given mainly on two sites: Pitié-Salpêtrière and Saint-Antoine. The faculty also provides paramedical education: speech therapy, psychomotricity and orthoptics. The Saint-Antoine site includes a midwifery school.

Study
at the faculty of medicine

One of our riches is the diversity of students and their backgrounds. Sorbonne University is committed to the success of each of its students and offers them a wide range of training as well as support adapted to their profile and their project.

Associative life

One of our riches is the diversity of students and their backgrounds. Sorbonne University is committed to the success of each of its students.

21 393

users

17 527

students

715

Doctors in medecine and research

12

Research centers

Chiffres-clés
Welcome to Sorbonne University's Faculty of Science & Engineering

A unique combination of courses and expertise

Our international study programmes are organised according to the major disciplinary areas of the faculty. They represent the graduate study programmes that are not strictly conducted in French or that could be suitable (in part) for non French-speaking students. They also reflect part of the diversity of the disciplines involved and the bi- and inter-disciplinary aspects of many of the courses we offer.

 

Research & Innovation

We rely on disciplinary skills and on interdisciplinary approaches to renew concepts, methods and research subjects and to focus on some of the crucial issues faced by our societies: transformations affecting the very construction of knowledge (data, AI), the treatment of complex objects (the environment, marine and ocean sciences, cultural heritage) or our contributions to addressing societal challenges (climate change, healthcare).

Study at
The Faculty of Science & Engineering

Our campuses offer different and unique experiences to our students, visitors and staff. Resources and support services are also available to ensure an equal chance at success to all.

Campus Life

In addition to the cultural activities and events organised throughout the year by our clubs and societies, the Parismus society organises numerous events, evenings and cultural visits that will help you discover France and its parisian life.

23

ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS & INSTITUTE

72

RESEARCH UNITS

22,000

STUDENTS

Sorbonne University's Faculty of Science & Engineering, Oriented towards excellence