Lemurs of Madagascar —

Ring-tailed lemur
Indri lemur
Verreaux's sifaka

More lemur photos
Madagascar is world-famous for its lemurs—primates that look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog. These animals are unique to the island and display a range of interesting behaviors from singing like a whale (the indri) to sashaying across the sand like a ballet dancer (the sifaka). Below you will learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Lemur history
Madagascar lacks the dominant form of primate distributed worldwide, those of the suborder Haplorhini (monkeys, chimps, gorillas, and Homo sapiens). Instead, their niche has been filled by an older group of primates, the lemurs. Lemurs belong to the sub-order Strepsirhini together with bushbabies, lorises, and pottos which—like the original lemurs—are nocturnal, insectivorous primates characterized by a small body, a long nose, and large eyes. Lemurs have an interesting evolutionary history and the only reason they still exist today is because of Madagascar's isolation.

Until around 160 million years ago, Madagascar was attached to the African mainland as part of the super continent Gondwanaland (formed of Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, India, and Madagascar). As Gondwanaland broke apart, Madgascar moved away from Africa. The first lemur-like primates on the fossil record appeared roughly 60 million years ago in mainland Africa and crossed over to Madagascar shortly thereafter.

The island continued to drift eastward and by the time monkeys appeared on the scene 17-23 million years ago, Madagascar was isolated from their arrival. As highly intelligent and adaptive primates, monkeys quickly drove the lemur lineage elsewhere in the world toward extinction (a few Strepsirhines—including bushbabies, lorises, and pottos—managed to hang on by retaining their nocturnal, solitary, and insectivorous traits).

Madagascar's lemurs—isolated from evolutionary changes of the world—radiated into the large island's many niches without much competition or predation. Today lemurs are found in virtually all of Madagascar's ecosystems and share some of the social and behavioral characteristics of monkeys (i.e., forming social groups, eating fruit and vegetation, and being active during the day).

Upper primates did not reach Madagascar until about they learned to navigate the high seas and arrived on boats roughly 2,000 years ago. Humans quickly went to work on the island's lemurs, reducing the number of species found in Madagascar by at least 15. The largest species suffered the most and today the largest remaining lemur is the Indri which would have been dwarfed by the gorilla-sized species once found on the island. Currently all lemurs are endangered species, due mainly to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting.

Lemurs today
Today Madagascar is home to nearly 60 "taxa" of lemurs (species, sub-species, and populations from 33 species across five families and 14 genera) ranging in size from the 25-gram pygmy mouse lemur to the indri. All these species are endemic to Madagascar (two lemur species were introduced to the Comoros) giving the country the second highest number of primate species after Brazil, which has 77 species (only two endemic genera and no endemic families). And new species are still being discovered— primate researchers speculate that 10-20 new species of lemurs may be described over the next generation.

Global importance of Madagascar's lemurs
According to Russell Mittermeier in The Eighth Continent, although Madagascar "is only one of 92 countries with wild primate populations, it is alone responsible for 21 percent (14 of 65) of all primate genera and 36 percent (five of 14) of all primate families, making it the single highest priority" for primate conservation. "Madagascar is so important for primates that primatologists divide the world into four major regions: the whole of South and Central America, all of southern and southeast Asia, mainland Africa, and Madagascar, which ranks as a full-fledged region all by itself."

Non-scientists generally group lemurs by their primary time of activity: day or night. Noctural lemurs are typically smaller and more reclusive than their diurnal counterparts. Lemurs are vocal animals, making sounds that range from the grunts and swears of brown lemurs and sifaka to the chirps of mouse lemurs to the eerie, wailing call of the indri, which has been likened to a cross between a police siren and the song of a humpback whale.

Lemur species counts for selected parks:
Protected AreaSpecies
Andasibe Mantadia11
Kirindy Mitea8
Montagne d'Ambre8
Pic d'Ivohibe7
Bay de baly6
Nosy Mangabe6

Lemur species:
FamilyCommon nameScientific nameLocal nameActivePictures

CheirogaleidaeMouse and Dwarf lemursNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeHairy-eared Dwarf Mouse-lemurAllocebus trichotis Nocturnal
CheirogaleidaeSouthern Fat-tailed Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus adipicaudatus MataviramboNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeFurry-eared Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus crossleyi MataviramboNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeGreater Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus major MataviramboNocturnal+
CheirogaleidaeWestern Fat-tailed Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus medius Matavirambo, Kely Be-ohy, Tsidy, TsidihyNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeLesser Iron Gray Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus minusculus MataviramboNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeGreater Iron Gray Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus ravus MataviramboNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeSibree's Dwarf LemurCheirogaleus sibreei MataviramboNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeGray Mouse-lemurMicrocebus murinus Tsidy, Koitsiky, Titilivaha, Vakiandri, PondikyNocturnal+
CheirogaleidaePygmy Mouse-lemurMicrocebus myoxinus TsidyNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeGolden Mouse-lemurMicrocebus ravelobensis TsidyNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeRed Mouse-lemurMicrocebus rufus Anakatsidina, Tsidy, Tsitsidy, TistsihyNocturnal+
CheirogaleidaeGiant Mouse-lemur or Coquerel's Mouse-lemurMirza coquereli Tsiba, Tilitilivaha, Siba, Setohy, FitilyNocturnal+
CheirogaleidaeAmber Mountain Fork-crowned LemurPhaner electromontis Tanta, TantaraolanaNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeMasoala Fork-crowned LemurPhaner furcifer Tanta, TantaraolanaNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeWestern Fork-crowned LemurPhaner pallescens Tanta, Tantaraolana, VakivohoNocturnal
CheirogaleidaeSambirano Fork-crowned LemurPhaner parienti Tanta, TantaraolanaNocturnal

DaubentoniidaeAye-aye Nocturnal
DaubentoniidaeAye-ayeDaubentonia madagascariensisAye-aye, Ahay, Itay-hay, AiayNocturnal

IndridaeWoolly lemurs and allies Diurnal
IndridaeEastern AvahiAvahi laniger Avahina, Avahy, Ampongy, FotsifakaNocturnal+
IndridaeWestern AvahiAvahi occidentalis Fotsife, TsarafangitraNocturnal
IndridaeIndri lemurIndri indri indri Babakoto, AmboanalaDiurnal+
IndridaeIndri lemurIndri indri variegatus Babakoto, AmboanalaDiurnal+
IndridaeCoquerel's SifakaPropithecus coquereli Ankomba malandy, Sifaka, TsibahakaDiurnal
IndridaeCrowned SifakaPropithecus deckenii coronatus Tsibahaka, SifakaDiurnal
IndridaeDecken's SifakaPropithecus deckenii dekenii Tsibahaka, SifakaDiurnal+
IndridaeSilky SifakaPropithecus diadema candidus Simpona, SimponyDiurnal
IndridaeDiademed SifakaPropithecus diadema diadema Simpona, SimponyDiurnal+
IndridaeMilne-Edwards's SifakaPropithecus edwardsi Simpona, SimponyDiurnal+
IndridaePerrier's SifakaPropithecus perrieri Radjako, Ankomba JobDiurnal
IndridaeTattersall's SifakaPropithecus tattersalli Ankomba malandy, SimponaDiurnal
IndridaeVerreaux's SifakaPropithecus verreauxi SifakaDiurnal+

LemuridaeTrue lemursDiurnal
LemuridaeWhite-fronted LemurEulemur albifrons VarikaDiurnal
LemuridaeWhite-collared LemurEulemur albocollaris VarikaDiurnal
LemuridaeRed-collared LemurEulemur collaris VarikaDiurnal+
LemuridaeCrowned LemurEulemur coronatus VarikaDiurnal
LemuridaeBrown LemurEulemur fulvus Varikamavo, KombaDiurnal+
LemuridaeBlack LemurEulemur macaco Ankomba, KombaDiurnal+
LemuridaeBlue-eyed Black LemurEulemur macaco flavifronsAnkomba, KombaDiurnal+
LemuridaeMongoose LemurEulemur mongoz KombaDiurnal
LemuridaeRed-bellied LemurEulemur rubriventer VarikamenaDiurnal
LemuridaeRed-fronted LemurEulemur rufus Varika, VarikamavoDiurnal+
LemuridaeSanford's LemurEulemur sanfordi Ankomba, BeharavoakaDiurnal
LemuridaeAlaotran Gentle LemurHapalemur alaotrensis BandroDiurnal
LemuridaeGolden Gentle LemurHapalemur aureus Varibolomena, BokombolomenaDiurnal
LemuridaeGray Gentle LemurHapalemur griseus VaribolomadinikaDiurnal+
LemuridaeSambriano Gentle LemurHapalemur occidentalis Bekola, Kofi, Ankomba valihaDiurnal
LemuridaeRing-tailed LemurLemur catta Maki, HiraDiurnal+
LemuridaeBroad-nosed Gentle LemurProlemur simus Varibolomavo, Vari, VarikandraDiurnal
LemuridaeRed Ruffed LemurVarecia rubra VarimenaDiurnal+
LemuridaeBlack-and-White Ruffed LemurVarecia variegata VarijatsyDiurnal+

MegaladapidaeSportive lemurs Nocturnal
MegaladapidaeBack-striped Sportive LemurLepilemur dorsalis ApongyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeMilne-Edwards's Sportive LemurLepilemur edwardsi Boenga, Boengy, RepahakaNocturnal+
MegaladapidaeWhite-footed Sportive LemurLepilemur leucopus SongikyNocturnal+
MegaladapidaeSmall-toothed Sportive LemurLepilemur microdon Trangalavaka, Kotrika or Kotreka, Fitiliky, Itataka, VarikosyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeMitsinjo Sportive LemurLepilemur mitsinjonensisKotrika, VarikosyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeWeasel LemurLepilemur mustelinus Trangalavaka, Kotrika, Fitiliky, Itataka, VarikosyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeRed-tailed Sportive LemurLepilemur ruficaudatus Boenga, BoengyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeAnkarana Sportive LemurLepilemur septentrionalis ankaranensis Mahiabeala, SongikyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeSeal's Sportive LemurLepilemur sealiSongikyNocturnal
MegaladapidaeNorthern Sportive LemurLepilemur septentrionalis septentrionalis Mahiabeala, SongikyNocturnal

Lemur news

Dell becomes carbon neutral by saving endangered lemurs
(8/6/2008) Dell, the world's largest computer maker, announced it has become the first major technology company to achieve carbon neutrality.

Population of critically endangered lemurs discovered in Madagascar
(7/22/2008) Scientists in Madagascar have discovered a population of greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus), a critically endangered species of primate, in an area more than 400 kilometers away from its only known refuge, reports conservation International.

Tiny lemur species discovered in Madagascar
(7/14/2008) Researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of mouse lemur on the island of Madagascar. The find brings the global number of mouse lemurs to 16.

Lemurs are key to health of Madagascar's rainforests
(6/12/2008) Lemurs play a key role in the health of Madagascar's tropical rainforests said a renowned primatologist speaking at a meeting of conservation biologists in Paramaribo, Suriname.

Madagascar signs big carbon deal to fund rainforest conservation
(6/11/2008) Madagascar will sell more than nine million tons of carbon offsets to fund rainforest conservation in a newly established protected area. conservationists say the deal protect endangered wildlife, promote sustainable development to improve the economic well-being of people living in and around the park area, and help fight global warming.

New map sets conservation priorities for Madagascar
(4/10/2008) Compiling data on thousands of endemic species of ants, butterflies, frogs, geckos, lemurs and plants, an international team of researchers has developed a comprehensive biodiversity map of Madagascar that will help determine determine future reserve placement and conservation planning on the Indian Ocean island and beyond.

Madagascar's deforestation rate drops 8-fold in parks
(3/10/2008) Madagascar's deforestation rate in protected areas has fallen by eight-fold since the 1990s according to conservation International and the Malagasy government.

Aye-aye diverged from other lemurs 66M years ago
(2/25/2008) The aye-aye -- a bizarre, nocturnal lemur that taps on trees with its fingers to find its insect prey -- was the first of its family to branch off from the rest of the lemur line some 66 million years ago, report Duke researchers writing in the March 1 issue of Genome Research.

Photos: rare aye-aye lemur born at Bristol Zoo Gardens
(1/16/2008) Born on November 23rd, 2007 at Bristol Zoo Gardens this baby Aye-aye was given the name Raz. According to the EDGE (Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered) organization this is only the second Aye-aye to be hand raised in the UK.

UNESCO lists rainforest parks of Madagascar as Heritage sites
(7/2/2007) UNESCO has listed six rainforest parks in Madagascar as World Heritage sites. The announcement comes as the Indian Ocean island nation has moved aggressively to protect its biologically-rich forests from further degradation.

conservation is saving lemurs and helping people in Madagascar
(5/7/2007) Madagascar, an island nation that lies off the coast of southeastern Africa, has long been famous for its unique and diverse species of wildlife, especially lemurs--primates found nowhere else on the planet. In recent years, the island country has also become world-renowned for conservation efforts that are succeeding in spite of extraordinary pressures from a poor population that relies heavily on forest burning for basic subsistence. A large part of this success is due to the early efforts of Patricia Wright, a primatologist who has been working in the country for more than 20 years. Wright led the effort to launch the country's leading protected area and helped Madagascar become a leading global example of conservation despite its economic adversity.

Lemurs at risk due to invasion of feral beasts, global warming
(2/7/2007) The lemurs of Madagascar are among the world's most threatened primates. Extensive habitat destruction, hunting, and the introduction of alien species have doomed dozens of species to extinction since humans first arrived on the island within the past 2000 years. Most of the casualties were Madagascar's largest lemurs -- today the biggest lemur is but a fraction of the gorilla-sized giants that once ruled the island. Despite this relative impoverishment of megafauna, Madagascar still boasts nearly 90 kinds of lemurs, all of which are unique to the island (save one species that was probably introduced to some nearby islands). Lemurs display a range of unusual behvaiors from singing like a whale (the indri) to sashaying across the sand like a ballet dancer (the sifaka). Interest in lemurs has helped Madagascar become a global conservation priority, though they are still at risk. Continued deforestation, scattered hunting, and looming climate change all pose significant threats to some lemur populations. One largely unexamined threat comes from introduced species such as the Indian civet and mongoose, but especially dogs and cats that have become feral.

In search of wildlife, while dodging leeches, in Madagascar's unexplored rainforest
(2/5/2007) It is called a rainforest for a reason--because it rains.... and rains. As my field partner, Angelin Razafimanantsoa, and I make our way down muddy mountainsides in the endless downpour, we stop only long enough to pick squirming, bloodthirsty leeches off each other's face. Hours pass as we wade through knee-deep streams rushing over smooth, slippery rocks and thick forest stands. Seven hours ago, we anticipated arriving at our next base camp in three hours' time. Now, as night is falling, it seems we have at least five hours more to go.

Lemurs communicate by scent
(1/29/2007) Ringtailed lemurs can recognize each other by scent according to a study published in the current issue of the journal Animal Behaviour. The research, conducted by Elizabeth S. Scordato and Christine M. Drea of Duke University, looked at olfactory communication in the ringtailed lemur, a charismatic primate that forms complex social groups led by a dominant female, so see what information is contained within the scent marks of the species.

3 new lemur species identified in Madagascar
(11/27/2006) Genetic analysis has revealed three previously unknown species of lemurs on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. The newly described lemurs are all mouse lemurs, one of the world's smallest primates. These lively lemurs are found in virtually all of Madagascar's forests where they feed on insects, fruit, and plant sap. Nocturnal, mouse lemurs betray their presence with high-pitched chirps.

Lemur conservation in Madagascar requires poverty alleviation initiatives
(11/5/2006) Madagascar, an island larger than France that lies off the southeastern coast of Africa, is perhaps best known for its lemurs--primates that look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog. Lemurs, which are found naturally only in Madagascar, serve as a charismatic representation of the island's biodiversity and its problems. Since the arrival of humans some 2000 years ago from southeast Asia, Madagascar has lost all of its mega fauna and more than 90 percent of its wildlands. Today forest clearing for agriculture and hunting continues to put lemurs and other endemic species at risk. The good news is that because of Madagascar's biodiversity, the island has become a top priority for global conservation. At the forefront of these efforts is the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG), an international consortium of zoos and related organizations that work to protect Madagascar's wildlife and ecosystems, and the Duke University Lemur Center, the one of the world's leading lemur research facilities. Charlie Welch, currently a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center, recently answered some questions on his experiences in lemur conservation. Welch, along with his wife Andrea Katz, has worked in Madagascar for 17 years and helped transform conservation efforts in the country.

Climate Change Threatens Lemurs
(9/18/2006) Tropical rainforests are among the most stable environments on Earth, but they are still no match for global climate change. Dr. Patricia Wright, the widely admired primatologist and Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University, finds that climate change could mean the difference between survival and extinction for endangered lemurs.

Orangutans and chimps are smarter than monkeys and lemurs
(8/1/2006) The great apes are the smartest of all nonhuman primates according to scientists at Duke University Medical Center. The researchers found that orangutans and chimpanzees consistently outperformed monkeys and lemurs on a variety of intelligence tests, conclusively proving that apes are more intelligent than monkeys and prosimians.

Rare indri lemur born in forest reserve in Madagascar
(7/13/2006) A rare lemur known for its haunting whale-like call has given birth in a reserve outside its native forest. The news is significant because the Indri, as the world's largest living lemur is known, has traditionally done poorly when kept in captivity or introduced to outside its montane forest in Madagascar. The birth occurred at Palmarium, a small private reserve of lowland tropical forest established by a tour operator in Madagascar, and provides further hope for the successful conservation of the endangered species.

3 new lemurs named in Madagascar
(6/21/2006) To recognize an internationally renowned primatologist and champion of Madagascar's unique biodiversity, scientists who discovered three new species of mouse lemur on the island nation have named one in honor of Russell A. Mittermeier, the president of conservation International.

Why does Madagascar have so many unique animals?
(5/24/2006) Scientists have developed the first comprehensive theory to explain Madagascar's rich biodiversity. Madagascar, larger than California and about size the size of Texas or France, is the world's fourth largest island. Isolated in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southern Africa, about 70% of the estimated 250,000 species found on the island exist nowhere else on the globe. The island is home to such evolutionary oddities as lemurs, a group of primates endemic to the island; brilliantly colored lizards including geckos and chameleons; tenrecs, spiny hedgehog-like creatures; and the fossa, a carnivorous animal that looks like a cross between a puma and a dog but is closely related to the mongoose.

Madagascar establishes new park system to protect lemurs, benefit people
(1/17/2006) Madagascar has created a new agency for managing the parks of the Indian Ocean island nation. The System of Protected Areas of Madagascar, or SAPM, simplifies the legal process used to create a protected areas, while providing for flexibility for local people to earn a living from conservation activities.

Lemur land, Madagascar now protected
(1/8/2006) With the official establishment of the Makira Protected Area last week, the government of Madagascar has brought the total area of land and marine zones under protection to one million hectares.

Humans hunted giant lemurs to extinction
(11/14/2005) Madagascar's first inhabitants probably hunted the island's largest animals to extinction according to research published in the November issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Rain key to survival of baby lemurs
(11/14/2005) Researchers studying lemurs in Madagascar have discovered a link between tooth deterioration and rainfall amounts that suggests long-lived mammals may be particularly sensitive to changing environmental conditions--and that reproduction and infant survival is linked to tooth wear.

Lemur species named after British comedian
(11/12/2005) Researchers from the University of Zurich have named a newly discovered species of lemur after British comedian John Cleese in honor of his work with the primates from Madagascar.

Two tiny lemur species discovered in Madagascar
(8/9/2005) German and Malagasy primatologists have discovered two new species of lemurs, naming one of them after Steve Goodman, a Field Museum scientist who has devoted nearly two decades to studying the animals of Madagascar.

Lemur hunting persists in Madagascar, rare primates fall victim to hunger
(7/17/2005) While it has been illegal to kill or keep lemurs as pets since 1964, lemurs are hunted where they are not protected by local taboos. Many lemurs are particularly easy targets for hunting because evolution has rendered them ecologically naive in that without natural predators over the majority of their existence, they are less fearful than they should be.

Madagascar lemurs descended from single primate ancestor, finds study
(7/11/2005) Yale biologists have managed to extract and analyze DNA from giant, extinct lemurs, according to a Yale study published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Evolutionary analysis of the DNA obtained from the extinct giants reveals that they, like the living lemurs, are descended from a single primate ancestor that colonized Madagascar more than 60 million years ago.

Dancing lemur attracts tourists to island of Madagascar
(5/30/2005) In the dry deciduous forests of south western Madagascar there lives a lemur that loudly cusses but "dances" like a ballet performer. Verreaux's sifaka is among the most popular of lemur species, a group of primates endemic to islands off the southeastern coast of Africa. While threatened, Verreaux's sifaka is easily spotted is several of Madagascar's more accessible parks.

Seeking the world's strangest primate on a tropical island paradise
(4/17/2005) Seeking the world's strangest primate on a tropical island paradise

Rainforest Canopy - Primates
(3/1/2005) Primates are characteristic of every continental rainforest realm, except for the Australasian realm, and are made up of nearly 200 living species in more than 50 genera. Primates are thought to have originated from their insectivore-like ancestors between 100 million and 65 million years ago. The ancient primates most resembled lemurs and the tarsier of today, and upper primates did not appear until 37 to 23 million years ago. Upper primates include monkeys, apes, chimps, and humans, and the non-human species are generally divided into Old World monkeys and New World monkeys.

Lemur links
Duke University's Lemur taxa - includes extinct lemur species

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