Mongoose lemurs live in the dry, deciduous forest of Madagascar which means they have to be flexible enough to contend with 6 month periods of limited to no rainfall. While they appear to be cathemeral (active at varying times, both day and night) all year round, more nighttime activity is common during the dry months (May – November). 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.
Adult size: 3.1 – 3.5 lbs (1.4 -1.6 kg)
Social structure: male-female pairs with offspring
Habitat: dry, deciduous forest in northwest Madagascar, also introduced to the Comoro Islands.
Diet: fruit, flowers, leaves, and nectar
Sexual maturity: 2 years
Mating: highly seasonal, infants are born from October – December in Madagascar and April – May in North Carolina.
Gestation: 126 days
Number of young: one per season
IUCN Status: critically endangered
DLC Naming theme: Spanish
Malagasy names: Dredrika, Gidro
Size and Appearance
While mongoose lemurs have no relation to the small carnivore that gives them their name, they do share their small body size and gray fur color.
Mongoose lemurs are slightly larger than crowned lemurs, another member of the Eulemur genus. Mongoose lemurs are sexually dichromatic in the coloration of their “beards”; males have reddish-orange fur beneath their chins while females have white fur. Males born with white beards that turn reddish-brown when they reach 5-6 weeks.
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 both mature and immature leaves for nourishment. In the wild, they have also been observed to feed on the occasional beetle and insect grub.
In the wild, infants are born at the beginning of the wet season in 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.
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 human care, or, in rare instances, the offspring might kick a parent of the same sex out of the social group.
Monogamy is not common among lemurs and this behavior is being studied in non-invasive research at the Duke Lemur Center.
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, scent marking, and physical charges and threats.
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.
On Earth Day 2020, the Duke Lemur Center shared content all day, highlighting fossil preservation and lemur care in Durham, conservation in Madagascar, and research all over the world. One of these video clips features Maddie and Duggan, two mongoose lemurs, searching for treats in a foraging mat.
Nacho, one of our youngest mongoose lemurs, started free ranging in a Natural Habitat Enclosure with his family as an infant, clinging along to mom, Carolina’s, belly. See photographs of the family in their forest habitat HERE.