Lemuridae: Lemur Family

There are about 10 species of lemur, all found in Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Islands. Most live in wooded areas and are agile tree-climbers.

Mongoose Lemur

Most mongoose lemurs live in the dry forests of Madagascar. These forests are filled with deciduous trees that shed their leaves during periods of drought rather than when the weather turns cold. The lemurs also survive on two of the Comoro Islands, where they live in more humid rainforests.

During the dry season, mongoose lemurs are nocturnal. At this time of year the lemurs eat seeds and dry fruits that have fallen from the trees and are lying in wait for the rains. The mongoose lemur is an important disperser of these seeds. As the seeds pass through the lemur’s gut, a hard outer coating is digested away, which prepares them for germination when the rains arrive.

Male mongoose lemurs are pale grey with red patches on their flanks and face. The females are darker and have white patches instead of red. Newborns have a white beard.

In the colder, rainy season, mongoose lemurs are diurnal. At this time they also change their diet to leaves, flowers and pollen.

Mongoose lemurs are monogamous. A pair produces a single litter each year.

Distribution: Madagascar and Comoro Islands.

Habitat: Dry forest.

Food: Flowers, fruits and leaves.

Size: 35 cm (13.75 in); 2 - 3 kg (4.5 - 6.5 lb).

Maturity: 2 years.

Breeding: 1 - 2 young born in July - September.

Life span: 30 years.

Status: Vulnerable.

Fork-marked Lemur

Size: 22 - 28 cm (8.5 - 11 in); 300 - 500 g (10.5 - 17.5 oz).

This is one of the few species of lemur that is not classified as vulnerable to or endangered with extinction. It lives in most types of forest on Madagascar. The fork-marked lemur is named after the dark stripe on its forehead that splits in two and continues down either side of the face. Fork-marked lemurs are gum eaters. They have long upper teeth that point forwards to make a dental "comb" This comb is used to collect the sweet liquids that ooze from holes in tree trunks. Fork-marked lemurs live in pairs.

Crowned Lemur

Size: 34 cm (13.5 in); 2 kg (4.5 lb).

Crowned lemurs are named after the patch of orange hair on their heads. Males have brown bodies, while the females are more grey. Crowned lemurs live in northern Madagascar, where they are most common in that region's dry coastal forests. The lemurs are diurnal. They live in small groups and forage for fallen fruits. A typical group of these lemurs contains two adult pairs and a couple of young.

Bamboo Lemur

Size: 26 - 45 cm (10.25 - 17.75 in); 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).

This unusual lemur survives almost entirely on bamboo leaves. These are a difficult food because they contain high levels of the poison cyanide and are often covered in grains of hard silica that wear down the teeth. Bamboo lemurs live in small family groups. They forage in the trees and on the ground in the rainforests of eastern Madagascar.

Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur

The hairy-eared dwarf lemur is one of the rarest primates in the world. Even before the habitats of Madagascar were devastated by human activities in the 20th century, biologists have suggested that this species was rare. Although the species was first described in 1875, it has been observed in the wild only twice for more than a century. In 1989 a small population was discovered living in the Mananara River in the north-east of the island but they still remain largely elusive.

Without being able to watch the lemur behaving naturally, biologists have had to surmise how it survives by looking at dead specimens. The hairy-eared dwarf lemur has long upper teeth that form a toothcomb. This suggests that at least part of the lemur’s diet is made up of tree gums (sugary liquids that leak from holes in trunks). The species also has a long tongue compared to other similar lemurs. This tongue is useful for licking gums and also for extracting small food items, such as beetles and pollen.

Both sexes of hairy-eared dwarf lemurs have tufts of long hair on the ears. It is unknown what function this feature might have. The species is nocturnal, so using hairy ears as a visual signal is unlikely.

Hairy-eared dwarf lemurs are monogamous. They live in family groups of one male, one female and their one or two offspring. Breeding occurs during the wet season in November and births occur two months later. Both the male and female help to raise the young.

Distribution: North-eastern Madagascar.

Habitat: Lowland forest in the Manarana River Valley.

Food: Long tongue used to lick up sticky plant gums, nectar. Insects make up about half the lemur's food.

Size: 13.5 cm (5.25 in); 85 g (3 oz).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: Mating takes place at the beginning of the wet season in November and December and one or two young born in January and February.

Life span: 15 years.

Status: Endangered.

Grey Mouse Lemur

Size: 10 cm (4 in); 60 g (2 oz).

The grey mouse lemur lives in the trees of Madagascar's dry forests, where it is a solitary forager. It spends all its life in the trees but is seldom far above the ground. Its diet is mainly insects. The mouse lemur is nocturnal, spending the day asleep in communal nests. Males sleep in pairs, while females gather together in groups of 15 or so.

Weasel Sportive Lemur

Size: 24 - 30 cm (9.5 - 11.75 in); 500 - 900 g (1.1 - 2 lb).

This species of sportive lemur lives in forests in the eastern and western lowlands of Madagascar. As a sportive lemur its hind legs are longer and more powerful than the forelimbs, making the animal an excellent jumper. Weasel sportive lemurs are nocturnal. They eat mainly leaves, but will eat fruits, barks and flowers during dry periods. This species will also eat its own faeces to extract as many nutrients from its food as possible.

Northern Sportive Lemur

Size: 453 cm (121 in); 800g (1.75 lb).

This species is confined to the northern fringes of Madagascar, where it lives in the high branches of dry monsoon forests. It eats leaves and fruits.

Woolly Lemur

Avahis live on both sides of Madagascar, and some scientists class the two populations as separate species. In the northwest, they live in the dry monsoon forest that grows on mountain slopes. On the eastern side, they live in lowland rainforests. Avahis cling to vertical trunks and move around by leaping between trees. When on the ground they hop along on their hind feet.

The avahi is also known as the woolly lemur because of its thick and curly fur. The fur is groomed with a toothcomb formed from the lower incisors.

These animals often live in close proximity to indris, their close relative. Both species specialize in eating young leaves, but they avoid competition by foraging at different times: indris are diurnal while avahis feed at night. It is active at night, when it searches for fruit, leaves and buds to eat. Avahis eat only the softest parts of a leaf, throwing away the midrib. During droughts, avahis survive by eating flowers and fruits. The avahi's food is low in quality so the primate does not have a lot of energy. As a result it spends long periods resting, waiting for its food to digest. It is an agile climber and only occasionally descends to the ground, where it moves in an upright position.

The young are usually born in late August or September after a gestation period of about 150 days. The female normally produces a single young, which she suckles for about 6 months.

Distribution Eastern and north-western Madagascar.

Habitat: Forest.

Food: Leaves.

Size: 37 cm (14.5 in); 950 g (2 lb).

Maturity: 2 years.

Breeding: Young born in July - September.

Life span: 20 years.

Status: Lower risk.

White-footed Sportive Lemur

The white-footed sportive lemur is found in two very different habitats in the south of Madagascar. In this dry region there exists both a unique type of spiny forest filled with succulent plants similar to cacti and also gallery forests (forests that grow beside a river), which are denser and more humid. Despite the great differences between these two forests, both habitats are occupied by this sportive lemur. It is found in the lower branches during the night, where it moves from trunk to trunk with bold leaps, and by day the lemur nests in a thicket or tree hollow.

Like all sportive lemurs, this species has long limbs and especially powerful hind legs, which allow it to make enormous leaps. The hands have large pads for gripping on to vertical tree trunks.

White-footed sportive lemurs are leaf eaters. When leaves are scarce, they move on to fruits and flowers. Some reports suggest that this species extracts more of the nutrients from its food by eating the pellets of half-digested food that pass out of the anus, in the same way as rabbits.

Distribution: Madagascar.

Habitat: Spiny forest.

Food: Leaves.

Size: 25 cm (9.75 in); 500 g (1.11 b).

Maturity: 18 months.

Breeding: Single young born in October to December.

Life span: 15 years.

Status: Lower risk.