Eulemur macacoblack lemur

Geographic Range

Black lemurs are limited to the northwestern tip of Madagascar and the two adjacent islands of Nosy Komba and Nosy Be. In Madagascar, the two subspecies are separated by the Andranomalaza river, but clear separation only occurs in a relatively small area (Rabarivola and Meyers,1991). Eulemur macaco macaco can be found to the north of the river and Eulemur macaco flavifrons to the south of it (Rabarivola and Meyers, 1991). (Nowak, 1999; Rabarivola, et al., 1991)


Black lemurs are tree dwellers. They can be found in four habitats: primary rain forest, secondary forest, timber plantations and food crop plantations. (Nowak, 1999; Rabarivola, et al., 1991)

Physical Description

Black lemurs are primitive primates that are about the size of a house cat. Adults can weigh about 2.4 kg (Duke Primate Center, 1998). Head and body lengths vary between 300 and 450 mm (Nowak, 1999). There are two subspecies of the black lemur: black lemurs (Eulemur macaco macaco) and blue-eyed lemurs (Eulemur macaco flavifrons). These subspecies are similar in size, shape and behavior. Differences between the two subspecies include habitat, coat and eye color.

There is striking sexual dimorphism in color. Males in both subspecies are black. Female black lemurs have a dark coat which lightens to a deep rust on the sides. They are off-white on the stomachs. Female blue-eyed lemurs have a coat that is reddish-tan in color over the entire body. All black lemurs have brown eyes as opposed to blue-eyed lemurs which all have turquoise blue eyes (Duke University, 1998). (Duke University, 1998; Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • female more colorful
  • Range mass
    2 to 2.5 kg
    4.41 to 5.51 lb
  • Average mass
    2.5 kg
    5.51 lb
  • Range length
    300 to 450 mm
    11.81 to 17.72 in


The mating system of these animals has not been well studied. In the wild, groups range in size from 4 to 15 individuals. Females are dominant to males, and there may be some exchange of adults between groups. In captivity, females have their choice of mates. From this information, it seems likely that breeding is polygynous. (Duke University, 1998; Nowak, 1999)

Black lemurs breed seasonally in June and July. Birth occurs after a gestation period of 120 to 129 days. One offspring is usually born, however, twins are fairly common. The young are weaned at five to six months of age. Sexual maturity is reached by about 2 years of age. (Duke University, 1998; Henson Robinson Zoo, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    These animals can breed annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in June and July.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    120 to 129 days
  • Range weaning age
    5 to 6 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    548 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    548 days

Infants can be found clinging to their mothers' bellies for the first 3 weeks and will shift only to nurse. At about 3 weeks of age, the young lemur will begin to ride on its mother's back and will soon after take its first tentative steps. Nursing continues until about 5 to 6 months of age. Mothers provide grooming, protection, and transportation for their young, as well as valuable socialization. The role of males in parental care is not clear, although there is some evidence that males can be infanticidal in captivity. They may, therefore, have some role in protecting their offspring in the wild. (Duke University, 1998; Nowak, 1999)

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


These animals are reported to live 20 to 25 years, presumably in captivity. (Duke University, 1998)


Black lemurs are social, living in groups of between 2 to 15 related individuals. The average group size is between 7 to 10 individuals. The group sex ratio tends to favor males and the females are usually the dominant members. Grooming is important in the establishment and reinforcement of social bonds within the group. (Duke University, 1998)

Communication and Perception

These animals use vocalizations, scent marks, body postures and facial expressions, as well as tactile communication. (Duke University, 1998; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

During the rainy season, their diet seems to consist mainly of fruit. They have also been reported to eat mushrooms and millipedes on occasion during this season. Early in the dry season, a significant part of their diet comes from the nectar of flowers. Other things included in the dry season diet are seed pods, leaves, and flowers (Kappeler and Ganzhorn, 1993). (Kappeler and Ganzhorn, 1993)

  • Animal Foods
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Predators of these lemurs are not known. However, it seems likely that animals like fossas and raptors are possible predators.

Ecosystem Roles

As frugivores, these lemurs are likely to play some role in seed dispersal. However, because they eat nectar, they may also be important pollinators. To the extent that these lemurs are food for predators, they may have impact in local food webs.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans have found the black lemurs to be useful as a food resource and for their furs. They can also be trapped and sold to people as pets or used as attractions in zoos.

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Black lemurs are considered crop pests by farmers in some areas. (Duke University, 1998; Nowak, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

All lemurs are considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are protected under Appendix I of CITES. They are also listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red Data Book. Evidence indicates that their numbers are declining. The main threats to black lemurs include habitat destruction, poaching for their meat or fur, and capture for the pet trade or zoos. They have also been killed in some areas as crop pests.

Lemurs breed fairly well in captivity and are popular in zoos worldwide. The St. Louis Zoological Park in the United States coordinates the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for black lemurs. Reintroduction of lemurs bred in captivity may be used one day to boost wild populations. (Henson Robinson Zoo, 1997)

Other Comments

Black lemurs may breed with blue-eyed lemurs and will produce brown-eyed offspring in every case (Duke University, 1998). (Duke University, 1998)


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Barbara Lundrigan (author), Michigan State University, Daniel Davis (author), Michigan State University.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.


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

  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


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.


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.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


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.

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


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.


Duke University, 1998. "Blue eyed lemur" (On-line). Duke Primae Center. Accessed August 08, 2005 at

Henson Robinson Zoo, 1997. "BLACK LEMUR (Eulemur macaco)" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at

Kappeler, P., J. Ganzhorn. 1993. Lemur Social Systems and Their Ecological Basis. New York: Plenum Press.

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

Rabarivola, C., D. Meyers, Y. Rumpler. 1991. Distribution and Morphological Characters of Intermediate Forms Between the Black Lemur (Eulemur macaco macaco) and the Sclater's Lemur (E. m. flavifrons). Primates, 32(2): 269-273.