The Black lemur lives only on Madagascar and is a rare type of lemur. Males and females look very different from each other, the males having a dark brown or black coat with beady yellow-orange eyes and black tufted ears, while the females have such a different appearance that for a long time they were thought to belong to a different species. Females are tawny on the head and back, with rich-chestnut brown to golden-brown underparts. Their limbs have paler fur and their tails are a darker chestnut brown. Their ears have big tufts like the males, but the hair is white, and is long enough to extend around their cheeks.
Black lemurs live only in the northwestern tip of the island of Madagascar and two neighboring islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba. In Madagascar, it is found north of the Andranomalaza River. It is found in moist forests in the Sambirano region, rainforests on the two offshore islands, and within modified habitats of coffee, cashew nut and timber plantations.
Habits and lifestyle
Black lemurs live in a group of 2-15 individuals, with equal numbers of adult males and females, along with their offspring. The dominant female dictates the movements and activities of the group. Group interactions are through grooming, grunts, and contact calls. Home ranges cover 5 to 6 hectares, with considerable overlapping with the ranges of other groups. Black lemurs show a pattern of activity that is almost unique for primates and very rare for other arboreal mammals, consisting of bursts of activity either during the day or the night, though most takes place early morning and in the late afternoon. 'Cathemeral' is the name of this activity pattern, meaning ‘all hours’, in contrast with the usual division of either day or nighttime activity. During the day these lemurs forage in the canopy's understory, as this gives more protection from predators.
Diet and nutrition
Black lemurs are polygynous, which means that one male mates with multiple females. Males tend to travel from one group to another during the breeding season, which is in April-May. The gestation period is 125 days. Usually one offspring is born, though twins are quite common. Young will cling to the mother’s belly for the first three weeks, only moving to suckle. Then, being heavier, they ride on their mother’s back, becoming fully weaned at 5 - 6 months old. Black lemurs become reproductively mature at around 2 years of age.
Illegal timber exploitation, firewood and charcoal production are the main threats to this species. Other threats to the black lemur include destruction of their habitat, poaching for their fur or meat, and capture for zoos or the pet trade. In some areas they are also killed as crop pests.
No overall population estimate is available for Black lemurs. According to IUCN Red list, this species occurs in high densities from 48.35 to 398.93 individuals/km2 in Nosy Faly Penisula and in Manongarivo Special reserve. However today this species' numbers are decreasing and it is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.
Black lemurs are the sole dispersers of seeds for many of the tree species within their range. They may also have an important role as pollinators because they eat nectar as well as fruit. To the extent that they are food for predators, these lemurs may impact local food webs.
Fun facts for kids
- Black lemurs sometimes mate with blue-eyed lemurs, to produce brown-eyed offspring.
- A group of Black lemurs is known as a "troop".
- "Lemur" in Latin means "ghost". This suits black lemurs perfectly because, as tree dwellers, often they seem to be invisible up high in the dense foliage, though their movements and calls are easily heard from down on the ground.
- Lemurs have flat fingernails like those of humans.
- Each hind limb has a second toe known as a “toilet claw”, which is mostly used for grooming.
- Lemur males compete with each other by waging “stink wars”, where the glands at their wrists are used to scent their tails.
- Due to their arboreal lifestyle, lemurs are able to do such amazing things as making a sashay-type movement up on their hind legs while their arms are stretched above their heads while moving along the ground.