Sportive Lemurs: Lepilemuridae

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SPORTIVE LEMURS: Lepilemuridae



Sportive lemurs, also called weasel lemurs, have a head and body length of 9.8 to 13.8 inches (25.0 to 35.0 centimeters). Tail length is 9.8 to 12 inches (25 to 30.5 centimeters). The tail may be shorter or longer than the body, depending on species. Body weight is 1.1 to 2.2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilograms).

Sportive lemurs have short, pointed heads with large round ears. They have binocular vision, they're are able to see with both eyes at the same time. In the mouth, lower front teeth are joined and tilted forward. This dental-comb is a grooming, or fur-cleaning aid. Sportive fur is woolly and dense. All sportive lemurs have very long, strong hind limbs. They are much longer than the forelimbs, or front legs.


Sportive lemurs live only on the island of Madagascar, which is off the east coast of Africa.


Evergreen forests, where the trees stay green all year, and hot, dry forests.


Most sportive lemurs live in forested areas, ranging from evergreen rainforests to hot dry forests.


Sportive lemurs feed mostly on leaves. Sportive lemurs may also eat flowers, bark, and fruit. They are different from other lemurs in being able to feed on difficult-to-digest food, such as cactus-like leaves. When these partially digested leaves are eliminated as waste, in order not to waste any nutrition remaining, the sportive lemurs will eat this waste. Basically, they digest everything twice. This process is called cecotrophy (SEE-cuh-troh-fee), and is present in other animals, but not in other lemurs.


Sportive lemurs are nocturnal, moving about at night. They often gather in groups between the hours of twilight and darkness before moving on to their separate feeding territories, or areas. During the day, they sleep curled up in a ball within a hollow tree, in thick leafy areas, or among vines. They may use the same nesting area for several years. In the afternoon, they tend to stick their heads out of their hiding place, either watching their surroundings or napping.

Sportive lemurs have powerful, long, hind legs. They move by leaping from tree trunk to tree trunk, then clinging onto the tree trunk. Sportive lemurs may leap as far as 13 feet (4 meters) at a time. Large pads on their hands and feet help with holding on to tree trunks. They are also able to run on all four limbs, or hop on their two hind limbs. They can do this on tree branches or on the ground.

Male sportive lemurs often live alone. A mother and her children stay together. A male's territory includes that of several females. Males, and sometimes females, defend their territories from other sportive lemurs of the same sex by vocalizations, or sounds, body actions, chasing, or, if that doesn't succeed, fighting.


The koala lemur doesn't exist anymore—it is extinct. It weighed 88 to 176 pounds (40 to 80 kilograms) and had a quite large head and a short body, with front legs longer than the hind legs. All legs were somewhat curved, and hands and feet were quite long. The koala lemur would hold onto tree trunks, moving upward with short hops. When humans came to Madagascar, koala lemurs and their living areas were destroyed. They disappeared entirely by the 1500s.

Mating occurs at about eighteen months. Males will visit several females for mating purposes. Females are pregnant for four and a half months. One infant is born each year. Mothers may carry their young in their mouth as they leap from tree to tree, or leave them clinging onto branches while the mother hunts for food. At about one month the young start seeking food on their own. The young remain with the mother for about a year, until the next baby is born.


Sportive lemurs are hunted for food.


All seven species of sportive lemur are listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) due to loss of forest habitat, or living spaces. This is due to slash-and-burn agriculture, where forests are burned to clear land for people's homes and farms. Cattle and goat overgrazing also destroys habitat. Two species are Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, and five are Near Threatened, not currently threatened, but could become so.


Physical characteristics: Red-tailed sportive lemurs, also called lesser weasel lemurs, measure about 11 inches (28.0 centimeters) long, including head and body. Their tail is 9.8 to 10.2 inches (25 to 26 centimeters), slightly shorter than body length. Weight is about 1.3 to 2.0 pounds (0.6 to 0.9 kilograms). Eyes are yellow. Upper fur is light gray-brown, with front fur reddish brown. Undersides are whitish.

Geographic range: Red-tailed sportive lemurs are found in southwestern Madagascar.

Habitat: Red-tailed sportive lemurs live in dry forests.

Diet: Red-tailed sportive lemurs usually eat leaves, but they also eat fruit. Because tough leaves are difficult to fully digest, these lemurs re-digest some of their waste matter, so they can obtain all the nutrition from their food.

Behavior and reproduction: Mating occurs about eighteen months of age. Male red-tailed sportive lemurs mate with several females during the mating season. Females are pregnant about four and a half months, giving birth to one baby per year. The young stay with their mother and follow her about until they are about one year old.

Red-tailed sportive lemurs are arboreal, living in trees. A female and her young live in individual tree hollows and tree nests. Males live alone, having home ranges, or activity areas, that overlap that of several females. During the first few weeks of a red-tailed sportive lemur's life, the mother carries it about in her mouth. Later, an infant clings to her fur. However, when she goes food searching, she often leaves her young clinging to a branch or in a tree hollow.

Red-tailed sportive lemurs are nocturnal, active at night. They are very territorial, protecting their feeding areas. Males make loud crow-like calls to tell other males that an area is already taken. Males, and sometimes females, defend their feeding territory with noise, threatening body movements, chases, and even fighting.

Red-tailed sportive lemurs and people: Red-tailed sportive lemurs are hunted for food.

Conservation status: Red-tailed sportive lemurs are Near Threatened due to habitat destruction by fire and overgrazing of cattle and goats as well as hunting. ∎


Physical characteristics: The white-footed sportive lemur, also called the white-footed weasel lemur, weighs 1.2 to 1.3 pounds (0.5 to 0.6 kilograms). Body and head length measures about 9.8 inches (25.0 centimeters). Their tail is the same length. This lemur has large ears and whitish circles around large orange eyes. Its upper-body fur is gray-beige with brown shoulders. It has white on its forelegs and hindlegs.

Geographic range: The white-footed sportive lemur lives in southern Madagascar.

Habitat: The white-footed sportive lemur lives in trees, bushes, and grass in deserts with spiny plants and forests near streams and rivers.

Diet: The white-footed sportive lemur prefers to feed on thick, juicy leaves. However these may be rare in the dry areas it lives, so it eats tough, fibrous leaves. Because these leaves are hard to digest completely, it will eat some of its waste matter to extract, or get out, any remaining food value.

Behavior and reproduction: The white-footed sportive lemur is arboreal, living in trees. It has very strong, long hind limbs and travels by leaping between trees, then clinging onto tree trunks while climbing.

The basic family group of a white-footed sportive lemur is a mother and her young children. They sleep in tree holes, on branches, or in nests within thick vines. Each female group has its own small feeding territory. Males live alone in tree holes or vine bunches. Each male's feeding territory, or area, overlaps that of several females. During the mating season, a male will mate with more than one female.

White-footed sportive lemurs mate between May and July. Females are pregnant for about four and a half months. Females have one baby at a time. It is very tiny, weighing about 1.8 ounces (50 grams). Babies feed on mother's milk for about four months. When the females go out to search for food, babies are left clinging to a tree branch. Mothers make special noises, which sound like a kiss, to keep in contact with them. The young are mature, or adult, at eighteen months.

White-footed sportive lemurs are nocturnal, or active at night. They are highly territorial, protective of their feeding areas. Males, and sometimes females, threaten intruders with noises and physical displays. Intruders may be chased or even injured.

White-footed sportive lemurs and people: People hunt white-footed sportive lemurs for food.

Conservation status: White-footed sportive lemurs are Near Threatened due to forest fires, overgrazing by livestock, hunting, and poor land use. They are found in two Nature Reserves, a Special Reserve, and the Berenty private reserve. ∎



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Web sites:

Animal Diversity Web. "Family Megaladapidae (Sportive Lemurs)." (accessed on July 6, 2004).

Lemurs. "Lepilemur leucopus." (accessed on July 6, 2004).

Lemurs. "Red-tailed Sportive Lemur." (accessed on July 6, 2004).

Lemurs. "White-footed Sportive Lemur." (accessed on July 6, 2004).