Lepilemur leucopuswhite-footed sportive lemur

Geographic Range

Lepilemur leucopus is endemic to southern Madagascar. It lives in the primary Didiereaceae forest from Tolanaro (Fort Dauphin) west to the Onilahy River. (Harcourt and Thornback, 1990; Petter and Petter-Rousseaux, 1979; Petter, et al., 1977)


The main habitat of L. leucopus, the Didiereaceae and gallery forests of southern Madagascar, ranges from 0 to 800 m in elevation, though no elevational range for L. leucopus has been noted. The Didiereaceae forest, also called the Spiny Forest, is dominated by plants from the family Didieraeceae, spiny-leafed succulants adapted to this dry habitat. Gallery forests are rainforests along the edges of a river or stream. Both are home to L. leucopus, which can be found in the lower canopy (3 to 10 m) clinging to tree trunks and leaping between branches at night, and curled up in tree-holes or bundles of vegetation by day. (Klopfer and Boskoff, 1979; Rhett A. Butler, 2005)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 800 m
    0.00 to 2624.67 ft

Physical Description

Lepilemur leucopus is a medium sized, long-tailed prosimian with long fore and hind limbs used for climbing and leaping. Dorsally they are medium grey-brown with darker brown across the upper forelimbs, shoulders, and thighs. Ventrally the body is pale-grey to creamy-white. The tail is dark brown-grey. The hands and feet have large pads for clinging to trees. A folivorous diet necessitates a large caecum in this species. The average mass of a L. leucopus is 544 g, with the head and body ranging from 24 to 26 cm in length, and the tail from 21 to 26 cm. The ears are 0.32 cm long. (Harcourt and Thornback, 1990; Tattersall, 1982)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    544 g
    19.17 oz
  • Range length
    24 to 26 cm
    9.45 to 10.24 in


Though research on L. leucopus is limited, the mating system is thought to be one of polygynous scramble competition. Individuals are solitary, with a male’s territory encompassing or overlapping that of one or more females. A large male may have up to five females' territories overlapping his own, whereas a smaller male may have only one or two. (Hladik and Charles-Dominique, 1974; Nash, 1998; Petter, et al., 1977)

Lepilemur leucopus breeds once per year, between May and July. The mother gives birth to one offspring from September to November after a gestation of about 4.5 months. The infant is born with its eyes open and is able to cling to branches; after one month it can climb and jump. Lepilemur leucopus reaches sexual maturity at 18 months of age. The time to weaning and independence are not yet known for this species. However, within the genus, other species are known to wean their young around the age of 4 months. The young remain with the mother until well after their first birthday. It is likely that L. leucopus is like other members of the genus in regard to these parameters. (Klopfer and Boskoff, 1979; Petter, et al., 1977)

  • Breeding interval
    Lepilemur leucopus breeds once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from May to July.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    4.5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    18 months

Lepilemur leucopus young are raised entirely by their mother. The infant is born with its eyes open and the ability to cling to a branch. The mother transports her infant in her mouth when leaving the nest at night to forage, and then 'parks' it on a branch nearby while she eats; this allows her to keep the vulnerable infant nearby while she ranges out from her nest.

When it is old enough, the young lepilemur will follow its mother, learning feeding sites and social behaviors. The time to weaning and independence are not known in this species. A bond seems to develop between mother and offspring, especially mother and daughter, and will manifest throughout their lives when they meet and greet with nose-touches and grooming. A daughter may remain in the mother's territory once she is mature, whereas males tend to disperse.

Males have no known role in parental care in this species. (Hladik and Charles-Dominique, 1974; Klopfer and Boskoff, 1979; Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979; Tattersall and Sussman, 1983)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


It is not known how long L. leucopus lives in the wild, and it does not survive well in captivity, with the longest record being two years. Lepilemur leucopus is extremely sensitive to diet and climate changes and is not known to have bred or reproduced in captivity. Other members of the genus Lepilemur are known to have lived up to 15 years in captivity. It is likely that this species has a similar potential lifespan. (Petter, et al., 1977; Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library, 2004)


Individuals of this species are solitary, arboreal, and nocturnal. Their primary mode of locomotion is vertical clinging and leaping (1.5 to 2.0 m) among branches from 5 to 15 m above ground. They sleep by day in tree-holes or on bundles of vegetation either alone or with another lepilemur whose territory overlaps.

Opinions on night activity vary: one study found the observed male lepilemur traveled only 270 m in one night and that individuals did not often emerge from their nests; however, another study found that lepilemurs spent only 13% of the night at rest and traveled an average of 400 m while foraging. It is speculated that due to a low quality diet (being folivorous), activity in lepilemurs is restricted, forcing them to spend less than 10% of their energy moving between feeding-sites; instead they direct their energy towards defending their resources with surveillance throughout the night.

The territory of a male may overlap with the territories of one to five females, and interactions between these residents are peaceful. However, males violently defend their territories against other males. Both sexes maintain their range through calls and surveillance. Territories of females often overlap, and mother/daughter pairs will often meet each other and forage or sleep together, participating in mutual grooming. It has been speculated that L. leucopus might have a dispersed harem social organization, though this is not confirmed. (Charles-Dominique and Hladik, 1971; Fleagle, 1988; Hladik and Charles-Dominique, 1974; Hladik, 1979; Muller and Thalmann, 2000; Russel, 1977; Sussman, 1979; Tattersall, 1982)

  • Range territory size
    Male: 2.0, Female: 1.5 to Male: 4.6, Female: 3.2 km^2
  • Average territory size
    Male: 3.0, Female: 1.8 km^2

Home Range

Territories are larger for males (on average 3.0 km2) and smaller for females (1.8 km2). The home ranges of juvenile females may be as little as 1.8 to as large as 2.0 km2.

Communication and Perception

Lepilemur leucopus communicates primarily through vocalizations and touch. Members of this species have a variety of calls ranging from those for territory-defense to contact calls. Physical contact between range-mates establishes bonds and facilitates mutual grooming.

Males emit a loud and crow-like territorial call which indicates the male’s presence in his territory. When in close proximity (3 to 10 m) at territory edges, males (and more rarely females) will utter a single or a series of ‘hien’ calls followed by a single or series of higher-pitched ‘hee’ calls. These calls may also be given individually.

Either sex will give a contact-rejection call when approached in captivity or in proximity to a conspecific in the wild. It consists of 'a series of resonant hissing calls and then a two-phase vocalization'. Conspecifics have been observed hitting and biting each other while emitting a high-pitched call, presumably while in a fight over territory. This behavior has also been observed in captive animals when approached by humans. Distress calls have been noted upon capture.

Females contact their infants with a kiss-like call. This is generally heard when a mother has left her infant parked alone on a branch while she forages. The infant will call out to its mother with a ‘long, plaintive “on”’ if distressed.

Social grooming and nose-touching occur as a greeting, commonly between a mother and her adult offspring or range-mates: they nose-touch, groom each other, then rest against each other for a time.

Lepilemur leucopus does not use scent to mark territory boundaries and must rely upon calls and sight-survellience by night to find threats and food. (Fleagle, 1988; Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979; Tattersall and Sussman, 1983)

Food Habits

Primarily folivorous, L. leucopus eats leaves of the species Tamarindus indica and Euphorbia tiruculli, as well as species of vine. They are also known to eat the flowers of T. indica and some fruits when resources are scarce, and to practice cecotrophy (one study found no evidence of cecotrophy). (Hladik, 1979; Nash, 1998; Russel, 1980)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • dung


There were no accounts of L. leucopus specifically being preyed upon. However, ecologically similar sympatric species (four-marked dwarf lemurs) have been observed being attacked (though not killed) by birds of prey. Being nocturnal, L. leucopus may have few predators, but owls and nocturnal snakes are considered possible threats. There are reports of members of the genus Lepilemur being hunted by humans for food, but nowhere is L. leucopus mentioned specifically. (Charles-Dominique and Petter, 1980; Richard and Sussman, 1975)

Ecosystem Roles

There is limited information on the ecology of L. leucopus. It has no known predators, though it likely does fall victim to some predators, thereby inhabiting a place in local food webs. Lepilemur leucopus is the known host of one ectoparasite: the tick Haemaphysalis lemuris. As a nocturnal folivore, L. leucopus has an impact on its food trees. (Charles-Dominique and Petter, 1980; Junge and Lewis, 2002)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Though there is no information available for L. leucopus, native people in Madagascar are known to eat other members of the genus Lepilemur. They may also take these animals as trophies. Both activties are illegal.

Lepilemur leucopus does not survive well outside its native environment; thus it is doubtful there is any successfull export of these animals as pets or for zoos. Also, being nocturnal, it is unlikely that any but a researcher would be interested in seeking the species out. (Richard and Sussman, 1975)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of this species on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red-list of 2000 lists this species as “lower risk, near threatened”. The main threats to L. leucopus are listed as hunting and habitat loss. CITES lists all species in the family Lepilemuridae on Appendix I.

There is little specific information about threats to L. leucopus. Threats to lemur populations in general include hunting for food and sport, though many native peoples have taboos against killing some species and hunting is illegal. Deforestation due to charcoal production (the trees are cut and burned) and logging by foreign oil companies destroys the habitat L. leucopus depends upon. Exportation of most lemurs is illegal but enforcement is lax and impacts are not fully understood.

Total population numbers are not known but densities of 810 individuals per square km have been reported in the Berenty Private Reserve’s gallery forest. Densities of 200 to 350 individuals per square km were found in the Didiereaceae bush. (Charles-Dominique and Hladik, 1971; Hladik and Charles-Dominique, 1974; Richard and Sussman, 1975)

Other Comments

Malagasy name: Songiky Common names: White-footed sportive lemur White-footed weasel lemur

First described by Forsyth Major 1894 as Lepilemur mustelinus leucopus. (Tattersall, 1982)


Lorien Reynolds (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor, instructor), Humboldt State University.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Charles-Dominique, P., J. Petter. 1980. Ecology and Social Life of Phaner furcifer . Pp. 81 in Nocturnal Malagasy Primates: Ecology, Physiology, and Behavior. New York, London, toronto, Sydney, San Francisco: Academic Press.

Charles-Dominique, P., C. Hladik. 1971. Le lepilemur du sud de Madagascar: eologie, alimentation et vie sociale. La terre et La Vie, 25: 3-66.

Fleagle, J. 1988. Primate Adaptation and Evolution. New York: Academic Press.

Harcourt, C., J. Thornback. 1990. Lemurs of Madagascar and the Comoros. The IUCN Red Data Book. Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.: ICUN Gland.

Hladik, C. 1979. Diet and Ecology of Prosimians. Pp. 338 in G Doyle, R Martin, eds. The Study of Prosimian Behavior. London: Academic Press.

Hladik, C., P. Charles-Dominique. 1974. The Behavior and Ecology of the Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus) in Relation to its Dietary Peculiarities. Pp. 23-36 in R Martin, G Doyle, A Walker, eds. Prosimian Biology. London: A.C. Duckworth.

Junge, R., E. Lewis. 2002. Medical evaluation of free-ranging primates in Betampona Reserve, Madagascar. Lemur News, 7: 23-25. Accessed February 26, 2005 at http://www.dpz.gwdg.de/lnews/volume7.pdf.

Klopfer, P., K. Boskoff. 1979. Maternal Behavior in Rosimians. Pp. 124 in G Doyle, R Martin, eds. The Study of Prosimian Behavior. London: Academic Press.

Muller, A., U. Thalmann. 2000. Origin and evolution of primate social organization: a reconstruction. Cambridge Philosophical Society Biological Review, 75: 405-435. Accessed February 26, 2005 at http://www.allmanlab.caltech.edu/classes/bi216home/muller.pdf.

Nash, L. 1998. Vertical Clingers and Sleepers: Seasonal Influences on the Activities and Substrate Use of Lepilemur leucopus at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. Folia Primatologia, 69: 204-217.

Petter, J., R. Albignac, Y. Rumpler. 1977. Mammiferes lemuriens (Primates porsimians). Faune de Madagascar, 44: 287-305.

Petter, J., P. Charles-Dominique. 1979. Vocal communication in prosimians. Pp. 271-272 in R Martin, G Doyle, eds. The Study of Prosimian Behavior. New York: Academic Press.

Petter, J., A. Petter-Rousseaux. 1979. Classification of the Prosimians. Pp. 1-44 in R Martin, G Doyle, eds. The Study of Prosimian Behavior. London: Academic Press.

Rhett A. Butler, 2005. "WildMadagascar.org" (On-line). Accessed March 25, 2005 at http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/ecosystems.html#ddf.

Richard, A., R. Sussman. 1975. Future of the Malagasy Lemurs: Conservation or Extinction. Pp. 400 in I Tattersall, R Sussman, eds. Lemur Biology. New York, London: Plenum Press.

Rumpler, Y. 1975. Chromosomal Studies in Systematics of Malagasy Lemurs. Pp. 38 in I Tattersall, R Sussman, eds. Lemur Biology. New York, London: Plenum Press.

Russel, R. 1977. The Behavior, Ecology, and Environmental Physiology of a Nocturnal Primate, Lepilemur mustelinus (Strepsirhini, Lemuriformes, Lepilemuridae) PhD Thesis. Duke University: unpublished.

Russel, R. 1980. The environmental physiology and ecology of Lepilemur ruficaudatus in arid southern Madagascar. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 52: 273-274.

Sussman, R. 1979. Primate Ecology: Problem-Oriented Field Studies. New York, Chichester, Brisbane and Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.

Tattersall, I. 1982. Primates of Madagascar. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tattersall, I., R. Sussman. 1983. Ecology and Behavior of the Malagasy Primates. P Seth, S Seth, eds. Perspectives in Primate Biology, Vol. 3. New Delhi: Today and Tomorrow's Printers and Publishers.

Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library, 2004. "Primate Info Net" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2005 at http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/phys/lifespan.html.