Propithecus diademadiademed sifaka

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Geographic Range

Propithecus diadema, like all lemurs, occurs only in Madagascar. Although all sifakas occur on the eastern side of the island, each of the four described subspecies has a distinct range (Garbutt, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999)

Habitat

Sifakas generally inhabit mid-altitude rainforests. These animals mainly occur at elevations above 800 meters. The range of P. candidus extends into montane rainforest. Rainfall in sifaka habitat is variable, from 2000 to 4000 mm per year, with most rainfall occurring during the summer months (December through March) (Wright, 1995; Garbutt, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999; Wright, 1995)

  • Range elevation
    800 (low) m
    2624.67 (low) ft

Physical Description

Members of the genus Propithecus reach lengths between 450 and 550 mm, with the tail adding an additional 432 to 560 mm. Propithecus diadema weighs between 5 and 7 kg.

Each subspecies is phenotypically unique. Propithecus diadema diadema is often reported to be the largest extant lemur. These animals have a white head, grey shoulders, tail, and back, and golden limbs. Propithecus diadema edwardsi is almost completely grey/black, with a white back. Propithecus candidus has almost completely white pelage with tints of grey. Propithecus diadema perrieri is completely black. All subspecies have dark naked faces and red-orange eyes.

The only other animals with which these animals might be confused are indris. However, sifakas have a very long tail, which distinguishes them from short-tailed indris. (Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, et al., 1994; Nowak, 1999)

  • Range mass
    5 to 7 kg
    11.01 to 15.42 lb
  • Range length
    450 to 550 mm
    17.72 to 21.65 in

Reproduction

Our current understanding of the mating system of this species is limited. Mating occurs between resident males and resident females, with no recorded cases of invading males successfully copulating. There is a hierarchy system for mating, and it seems that only the dominant male copulates with the females. Submissive males may show aggression and attempt to keep the dominant male from mating.

The best data on reproduction exists for P. diadema edwardsi, but data for other subspecies suggest that they are similar. Copulations occur in summer, in the months of December and January. Gestation period is around 180 days (approximately six months). Females give birth to one or two offspring in the winter months (May, June, July).

Offspring are carried by their mother. The young may nurse up to the age of 2, although by this time, mother's milk does not provide them with a substantial amount of their nutrition. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females and five years for males. Birth rates are approximately 0.5 offspring per female per year (Wright, 1995; Garbutt, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Wright, 1995; Garbutt, 1999; Wright, 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Females are able to produce offspring every two years.
  • Breeding season
    Copulations occur in summer, in the months of December and January
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    180 days
  • Average gestation period
    157 days
    AnAge
  • Range weaning age
    24 (high) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1186 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    913 days
    AnAge

Offspring initially cling to the mother's belly, switching to her back at around one month of age. Nursing begins to decrease from the age of two months, although the process of weaning is protracted. At six months of age, less than half of the offspring's diet consists of the mother's milk. At one year of age, suckling during the day ceases. Suckling during the night, however, may continue until the infant is two years old.

In addition to food, the mother provides her young with protection, grooming, and socialization.

The role of males in parental care has not been described.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

The longevity of this species has not been reported. However, an individual of another species in the genus, Propithecus verreauxi, is reported to have lived beyon 23 years on captivity (Nowak, 1999). It is likely that P. diadema is capable of reaching similar ages. (Nowak, 1999)

Behavior

Like all sifakas, P. diadema is a vertical clinger and leaper. These animals are almost completely arboreal, but may spend time on the ground foraging or playing. They are diurnal and social, living in groups of 2 to 9 animals. The groups can consist of several breeding males and several breeding females, as well, as subadults and infants. Group members may be related, especially females.

Vocalizations are used mainly in maintaining group cohesion. Groups maintain distinct ranges of 20 to 30 ha, which they distinguish by scent marking. Males scent mark twice as often as females, and scent marking frequency doubles when approaching the territorial boundaries (Wright, 1988)

Upon reaching sexual maturity, females may either remain in their natal group to breed or disperse to other groups. Aggression has been observed between dominant females and other females before dispersal. All males seem to disperse by sexual maturity, and, upon reaching another group, can commit infanticide. However, females do not immediately come into estrous after losing their offspring.

Individuals of all ages and both sexes are subject to predation. No documented cases of predation by reptiles or raptors exist, but suspected avian predators include Madagascar harrier-hawks and Henst's goshawks. The main predators of P. diadema are probably fossas, an ambush predator that takes advantage of any opportunities available.

Two alarm vocalizations are given in response to predators. The ground predator call is a "tzisk-tzisk-tzisk", and the aerial predator call is a "honk-honk-honk" (Wright, 1988, 1995; Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, 1994). (Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, et al., 1994; Wright, 1988; Wright, 1995)

Home Range

Groups maintain distinct ranges of 20 to 30 ha (Wright, 1988). (Wright, 1988)

Communication and Perception

As in all primate species, communication is rich and varied. Vocalizations are used mainly in maintaining group cohesion. Two alarm vocalizations are given in response to predators. The ground predator call is a "tzisk-tzisk-tzisk", and the aerial predator call is a "honk-honk-honk" (Wright, 1988, 1995; Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, 1994).

Scent marking is common, and males scent mark twice as often as females. Scent marking frequency doubles when approaching the territorial boundaries (Wright, 1988, 1995; Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, 1994).

In addition to vocal and chemical communication, these animals use tactile communication, in the form of grooming, play, and aggression. Tactile communication is likely to be of high importance between mothers and their offspring, as well as between mates.

Although not specifically reported for these animals, we may assume that, like other diurnal primates, they use visual signals in their communication also. These include but are not limited to facial expressions and body postures (Nowak, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, et al., 1994; Nowak, 1999; Wright, 1988; Wright, 1995)

Food Habits

Propithecus diadema is herbivorous, eating only leaves, flowers, fruits, and young shoots. Approximately 25 species of plants are consumed in each of the two subspecies that have been studied (P. diadema edwardsi and P. diadema diadema). Propithecus diadema edwardsi has also been seen eating soil, possibly to detoxify plant poisons or to supplement their diet with trace elements (Garbutt, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

Individuals of all ages and both sexes are subject to predation. No documented cases of predation by reptiles or raptors exist, but suspected avian predators include Madagascar harrier-hawks and Henst's goshawks. The main predators of P. diadema are probably fossas, an ambush predator that takes advantage of any opportunities available.

Two alarm vocalizations are given in response to predators. The ground predator call is a "tzisk-tzisk-tzisk", and the aerial predator call is a "honk-honk-honk" (Wright, 1988, 1995; Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, 1994).

Ecosystem Roles

As frugivores, these animals probably help to disperse seeds. As potential prey items, they may impact predator populations.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The existence of this rare and endemic species, as well as the rest of Madagascar's unique flora and fauna, has stimulated a large amount of ecotourism for the area. This, along with the establishment of several reserves in Madagascar's remaining forests, has helped to bolster the economy of a severely depressed nation (Wright, 1992). (Wright, 1992)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no known negative economic effect of this species on humans.

Conservation Status

Both P. candidus and P. diadema perrieri are given IUCN critically endangered status. All subspecies are threatened by habitat destruction. This occurs mainly in the form of slash-and-burn agriculture, but also as timber extraction. Most are also hunted for food, even in protected areas. All subspecies occur in at least one protected area.

In response to these threats, several reserves have been established within the last few decades. Also, campaigns to educate locals and find better methods of agriculture have been persued (Wright, 1992; Mittermeier, 1994; Garbutt, 1999). (Garbutt, 1999; Mittermeier, et al., 1994; Wright, 1992)

Other Comments

All sifakas are amazing leapers, jumping distances of up to thirty feet. When on the ground, they move by leaping sideways on their hind limbs.

Neither P. candidus and P. diadema perrieri have been formally studied, and therefore little is known of their ecology and behavior. They are both extremely rare, and so time is running out to find out about these creatures (Garbutt, 1999).

Strangely enough, leaping primates (including sifakas), do not take adavantage of the elasticity of the substrates on which they move. Therefore, unlike most things in nature, leaping locomotion is not an evolutionarily efficient locomotory strategy for large-bodied primates (Demes, 1995). (Demes, et al., 1995; Garbutt, 1999)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Jonathan Strunin (author), University of California, Berkeley, James Patton (editor), University of California, Berkeley.

Glossary

Ethiopian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

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

iteroparous

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).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

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.

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

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

tropical

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

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

References

Demes, B., W. Jungers, T. Gross, J. Fleagle. 1995. Kinetics of Leaping Primates: Influence of Substrate Orientation and Compliance. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 96: 419-429.

Garbutt, N. 1999. Mammals of Madagascar. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Mittermeier, R., I. Tattersall, W. Konstant, D. Meyers, R. Mast. 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Washington D.C.: Conservation International.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wright, P. 1995. Demography and Life History of Free-Ranging *Propithecus diadema edwardsi* in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 16(5): 835-854.

Wright, P. 1992. Primate Ecology, Rainforest Conservation, and Economic Development: Building a National Park in Madagascar. Evolutionary Anthropology: 25-33.

Wright, P. 1988. Social Behavior of *Propithecus diadema edwardsi* in Madagascar. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 75: 289.