Eulemur fulvusbrown lemur

Geographic Range

Eulemur fulvus is found on Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. This species includes five subspecies. They are Eulemur fulvus fulvus (common brown lemurs), Eulemur fulvus albifrons (white-fronted lemurs), Eulemur fulvus collaris (collared lemurs), Eulemur fulvus rufus (red-fronted lemurs), and Eulemur fulvus sanfordi (Sanford's lemurs). They all have their own specific ranges within the larger range shared by the entire species.

Red fronted lemurs (E. f. rufus) are found naturally in western and eastern Madagascar. There is also a small introduced population in Southern Madagascar at the Berenty Private Reserve. Common brown lemurs (E. f. fulvis) are found in northwest portions of Madagascar. White-fronted lemurs (E. f. albifrons) are found throughout most of the remaining northeastern rain forest in Madagascar. Collared lemurs (E. f. collaris) are found in southeastern Madagascar, and Sanford's lemurs (E. f. sanfordi) have a very restricted range in northern Madagascar.

At some points, these subspecies exist sympatrically.


The habitat for E. fulvus varies slightly for each of the included subspecies. Red-fronted lemurs are found in the canopy of deciduous forests in western and eastern Madagascar. Common brown lemurs and collared lemurs live in scattered forest fragments in the high plateaus of western Madagascar. White-fronted lemurs are found in rain forest fragments. Sanford's lemurs inhabit a very limited area of secondary forest.

As mentioned earlier, the habitats for these subspecies do overlap, since some of the groups exist sympatrically.

Physical Description

Brown lemurs, like all true lemurs, have binocular vision and long furry tails. They have a scent gland located at their wrist that is used in olfactory communication. This species is sexually dichromatic - its males and females have different fur patterns.

All the members of this species fall within the broad size range of 2 to 4 kg. This is about the size of a housecat. Each subspecies has its own unique markings on its fur.

Red-fronted brown lemurs have an average weight of about 2.7 kg and their average body length is 40 cm. The tail is about 55 cm long. The males are gray to gray-brown and have a reddish crown. The females are reddish-brown. All red-fronted brown lemurs have pale patches over their eyes.

Common brown lemurs, weigh around 2.6 kg. Their body length is 50 cm, as is their tail length. Both males and females are brown to dark-gray with light beards and dark faces.

White-fronted lemurs have a body weight of 2.3 kg, and body length of 40 cm, and a tail length of greater than 50 cm. Generally, this subspecies is dark brown with a lighter underside. Males have a white or cream colored head, ears and beard.

Collared lemurs are around 2.6 kg, with a body length of 50 cm and a tail length of 50 cm as well. Males are brownish-gray with a dark stripe down the back, a dark tail and tail tip, and a lighter underside. Females have a reddish to brown coat and a gray face. Both sexes have a distinct beard that is reddish-brown in females and cream to reddish-brown in males.

Sanford's lemurs weigh around 2.3 kg and have a body length of 40 cm with a tail length of 50+ cm. They can be distinguished from the other subspecies by their fur. Both sexes are dark brown with a lighter underside. Noses, snouts and the area between the eyes are black, and a dark "T" that connects the eyes and nose dominates the head. Males have white-reddish ear tufts and thick beards, providing them the illusion of a 'ragged mane' around their faces.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    2 to 4 kg
    4.41 to 8.81 lb
  • Range length
    40 to 50 cm
    15.75 to 19.69 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    4.239 W


The mating system of these lemurs has not been reported. However, other species in the genus Eulemur are either monogamous or polygynous. It is likely that E. fulvus is similar. Unlike other members of the genus, females are not usually dominant to males, so the degree to which females exert active mate choice is not known. (Nowak, 1999)

Brown lemurs reach sexual maturity between 1 and 2 years of age. Their mating habits are very seasonal with mating occuring sometimes in late May (Sanford's lemurs only) but usually throughout June and July (all subspecies). The gestation period for these animals is approximately 120 days. Infants are born in the fall, between September and November. Only one infant is born per year to each mother.

  • Breeding interval
    These lemurs breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs sometimes in late May (Sanford's lemurs only) but usually throughout June and July (all subspecies)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    120 days
  • Average gestation period
    118 days
  • Range weaning age
    4 to 6 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

For the first three weeks of their lives, young lemurs hang onto the mother's bellies. They alter their grasp only to nurse. After three weeks have passed, they shift and ride on the mother's backs. They then begin to take their first steps. Following this, they start to sample solid food, nibbling on whatever the other members of the group happen to be eating. This is their first sign of independence. Nursing continues but its importance in the infant's diet tapers. The young lemur is weaned after approximately 4 to 6 months - usually by January.

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

  • Parental Investment
  • 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
  • extended period of juvenile learning


One individual of this species lived over 36 years in captivity. It is likely that, as with other lemurs in the genus, the maximum lifespan in the wild ranges between 20 and 25 years.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    36 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    25 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    35.5 years


This species forms multimale-multifemale groups. Depending on the subspecies and population, the size of these groups can vary, possibly including up to 40 individuals. Unlike most other lemurs, brown lemurs do not show signs of marked female dominance.

In red-fronted brown lemurs, the western and eastern populations of the same subspecies have different social behavior and group sizes. The western populations have groups of 4 to 17 individuals with an average group size of 9. In the east the group sizes range from 6 to 18 and the average is 8 individuals. Both populations have home and day ranges.

In the west, the home range is from 1.75 to 2.5 acres (.75 to 1 ha) and the day range is 125 to 150 m. The population density is higher in the west than in the east and can be as great as 10 individuals/ha. In the east, the home range can be up to 100 ha and the day range is 451 to 1471 m. The population density is comparatively much lower at .25 individuals/ha.

Common brown lemurs, white-fronted lemurs, and collared lemurs live in social groups of approximately 3 to 12. Group sizes of up to 29 individuals have been observed for common brown lemurs and collared lemurs. Their home range is around 17 to 50 acres (7 to 20 ha).

Sanford's lemurs live in groups of up to 15 animals although the average seems to be 3 to 9 individuals. The home range for this subspecies can be up to 35.5 acres (14.4 ha), with considerable overlap with other groups.

The species is arboreal and moves quadrupedally throughout the forest canopy. These lemurs are also capable of leaping and when they do, their long tails assist them in maintaining their balance.

Home Range

Home range size varies by subspecies and location.

Communication and Perception

Grooming is a way for E. fulvus to establish and maintain social bonds. Their unique method of grooming is a result of their 6 lower procumbent teeth that form a dental comb. This instrument is used to groom their own fur and that of the other members in the group.

Communication is achieved by both olfactory and vocal means. Olfactory communication is extremely important and is made possible by the scent glands located at the wrist throat. This type of communication is used for transmitting physical state, location, and individual recognition.

The sounds brown lemurs use for vocal communication have been described and partly deciphered. A nasal sound used in maintaining group cohesion has been described as 'ohn'. A 'cree' or high pitched sound is used as a territorial call, and 'Crou' is the alarm call of this lemur.

In addition to these forms of communication, body postures and facial expressions are likely to be important visual signals.

Food Habits

This species is largely folivorous. It also eats flowers, fruit, and bark. The diet of E. fulvus varies slightly between subspecies and populations.

Red-fronted lemurs are mainly folivorous (leaf-eating). They also consume pods, stems, flowers, fruit, bark and sap of the kily tree (Tamarindus indica). However, they have very adaptable diets. These lemurs have the ability to shift their normally herbivorous diet to invertebrates and fungi when plant matter is scarce. Eastern populations are specifically known to include insects, bird eggs, and dirt in their diets. They are known to have higher dietary diversity than those populations found in the west and a unique predominance of fruit.

Common brown lemurs, white-fronted lemurs, and collared lemurs eat mainly fruit, young leaves and flowers. Sanford's lemurs feed on primarily fruit, occasional plant parts and invertebrates.

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • sap or other plant fluids
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Predators of these lemurs have not been reported, although possibilities include fossas, raptors, and humans.

Ecosystem Roles

As frugivores, these lemurs are likely to aid in dispersal of seeds. As predators on insects and bird nests, they may affect relevant populations of animals. To the extent that these lemurs serve as prey for other species, they may have some impact on predator populations.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The protected areas of Madagascar, which many lemurs (as well as many other types of flora and fauna) reside in, have become quite an attraction for tourists. Communities in Madagascar benefit greatly from this. They receive fifty percent of national park entry fees. Local inhabitants also benefit by serving as guides and by selling handicrafts to the tourists.

Members of this species are sometimes hunted for meat.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Eulemur fulvus has no known negative effects on humans.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of brown lemurs is partially due to their restricted geographical area. Their primary threat is habitat destruction. Habitat destruction is largely the result of the explosive growth rate of the human population of Madagascar. This species is placed in a somewhat lower risk category (Vulnerable) because of its presumably large wild population and occurrence in a number of protected areas.

For red-fronted lemurs, the western habitats are largely at risk because of burning and clearing of land for pasture. In the east, the chief hazards are the slash-and-burn agriculture and forest cutting for fuel wood and construction. This subspecies occurs in some protected areas of Madagascar and can be found in captivity in 22 zoos worldwide where approximately 100 individuals are held.

Forest destruction is the primary threat to the survival of common brown lemurs. They are also hunted throughout much of their range. This subspecies is found in protected areas in Madagascar, and may be one of the lowest risk subspecies of brown lemur. Common brown lemurs have bred in captivity and there are currently about 140 animals at 40 institutions worldwide.

The white-fronted lemurs are threatened by the destruction of Madagascar's eastern rain forest for slash-and-burn agriculture. This animal is also hunted for food throughout most of its range. Presently, it does exist in protected areas in Madagascar. White-fronted lemurs do breed in captivity, and there are over 200 animals in captivity at more than 40 zoos worldwide.

Forest destruction is the primary threat to the survival of collared lemurs as well. They too, are hunted for food throughout much of their range. In addition to this, they are occasionally trapped for the pet trade. Collared lemurs occur naturally in only one of Madagascar's protected areas, but have been introduced into two others. Approximately 40 collared lemurs are currently in captivity in 6 institutions worldwide.

Sanford's lemurs are also threatened by forest destruction. This subspecies, however, does appear to be able to survive in slightly degraded habitats. Although Sanford's lemurs are found in protected areas in Madagascar, the level of protection varies among the reserves. This is because poaching and brush fires are common events in many of Madagascar's nature reserves. There are only two captive breeding groups of sanford's lemurs.


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Nita Bharti (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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


active at dawn and dusk

  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


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.


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.


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 mainly eats fruit


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.


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.

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


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


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


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.


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