More than other lemurs, mongoose lemurs might be active at different times of the day depending on the time of year. Mongoose lemurs appear to be cathemeral (active at varying times, both day and night) throughout wet and the dry season. However, during the warm, wet months (December to April) there is considerably more diurnal and/or crepuscular (evening) activity. With the onset of the dry season in May, there is a shift towards nocturnal behavior and the lemurs eventually become most active at night. It is thought that this shift towards nocturnality during the dry, hot season helps the lemurs conserve energy by shifting their activity towards the coolest part of the day. Also, this is the season where there is the least forest cover, so being active at night might help the lemurs avoid detection by predators.
During both the wet and the dry season, fruit appears to dominate the mongoose lemur diet. In the wet season, the animals are also known to feed voraciously on flowers, particularly those from the Kapok tree. In addition, these lemurs are extremely fond of nectar, which may indicate that they are important pollinators of certain species of flowers. During the dry season, the mongoose lemur must turn to mature and immature leaves for nourishment. In the wild, they have also been observed to feed on the occasional beetle and insect grub. In captive groups, mongoose lemurs have been seen to stalk, kill, and consume wild birds unfortunate enough to fly into their cages.
In the wild, infants are born in mid-October. Infants cling to their mothers’ bellies for the first 3 weeks, shifting only to nurse. At approximately 5 weeks of age, the young lemurs will take their first tentative steps away from their mothers. With this hint of independence, infants begin to taste solid food, sampling bits of whatever the other members of their group are eating. Nursing continues, in a steady decline in importance in the infant’s diet, until the infant is weaned at approximately 5 – 6 months of age.
As the family group travels through the forest, they maintain extremely close contact. Home ranges are small and there is often overlap with the range of another group. Neighboring groups encounter each other rarely, but when they do, the encounters are marked by aggressive vocalizations, much scent marking and physical charges and threats.
Mongoose lemurs live in small family groups consisting of a monogamous adult pair and one to three of their immature offspring. As is true of most lemur species, females are usually dominant to males, taking preferential access to food and the choice of with whom to mate. At sexual maturity (2.5-3.5 years old), offspring are encouraged to leave the family group by the parents. This also occurs in captivity, or, in rare instances, the offspring might kick a parent of the same sex out of the social group. Breeding is extremely seasonal and infants are born mid-October in Madagascar, mid-May at DLC. Single infants are typical, but twinning occurs rarely.
Habitat & Conservation
These lemurs inhabit dry deciduous forests in a small area of northwestern Madagascar. The species’ natural range is restricted to these forests, but mongoose lemurs have also been introduced to the Comoros Islands where they live in a more humid environment. This is the only species of lemur that is found outside of Madagascar.
The dry deciduous forests of northwestern Madagascar continue to be cleared to create pastureland and produce charcoal. This destruction is the primary threat to the survival of mongoose lemurs, but they are also hunted for food throughout much of their range. Additionally, they are occasionally trapped for the pet trade. Mongoose lemurs occur naturally in only one of Madagascar’s protected areas– the Ankarafantsika Nature Reserve.
The DLC currently has a population of 11 animals (5 males, 6 females), with recent births in 2011 and 2012 to two different breeding pairs. The US mongoose lemur population is managed by a Species Survival Plan (SSP). Unfortunately, the SSP has had a difficult time identifying captive breeding facilities that are interested in maintaining this animal.