CROWNED LEMUR

Eulemur coronatus

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
Crowned lemurs, once believed to be a sub-species of the mongoose lemur, are endemic to northern Madagascar. Their habitat extends east of the Mahavavy River and into the most northerly point of the African island; they occur anywhere from sea level to 4593 ft (1400 m) in elevation. They are sympatric throughout most of their range with Sanford’s lemur.

Crowned lemurs prefer semi-deciduous dry lowland and mid-altitude forest, but they may also be found in high-altitude tropical moist forests and wooded savannas, especially if their preferred dry habitat is unavailable because of human disturbance. They inhabit all levels of the forest canopy, though they seem most at home on lianas, under thick vegetation cover, and on terminal branches. They often descend to the ground to forage for food

Crowned lemur range, IUCN 2020

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
On average, crowned lemurs weigh 4.4 lbs (2 kg) with an approximate body length of 13.4 in (34 cm). Their tails, which help the crowned lemur balance in the treetops, extend for another 17 to 18 inches (43–46 cm). For reference, they are about the size of a small house cat.

Reportedly, crowned lemurs live for up to 36 years in captivity—but only for an average of 27 years in the wild.

Appearance
The crowned lemur is a small, sexually dimorphic primate with a long nonprehensile tail. While males and females do not differ much in size, they each have a very distinct appearance. Females are mostly light gray with a pale orange crown while males are darker reddish-brown with a striking black and orange crown. Pelage aside, they each have small, pointed, furry faces, tiny folded ears, and huge, bright round eyes.

They are slender, with long arms, legs, and fingers, and like all lemurs, they possess a tooth comb used for grooming themselves and others.

Diet
Diet varies with the seasons, with fruit comprising as much as 80 to 90 percent of the crowned lemur’s diet. They feed on flowers more during the dry season. They generally forage lower in the forests in scrubby bushes and short trees, which helps to alleviate agonistic interactions with other primate species, like Sanford’s lemurs.

Crowned lemur diet is also supplemented with young leaves, flowers, pollen, and occasionally insects and soil. They have been observed venturing deep into caves in search of water and they are known to raid farms and plantations, especially in areas of high human disturbance.

Behavior and Lifestyle
Crowned lemurs are arboreal and will travel throughout all levels of the forest, though they prefer the canopy. Despite some nighttime activity that can last up to two hours, crowned lemurs are more diurnal than nocturnal. 

Crowned lemurs are generally active from sunrise to sunset, but they will often take a noon break that can last up to four hours. These prosimian primates are known to travel during nightfall through a home range of 24 to 37 acres (10–15 hectares).

What Does It Mean?

Agonistic:
Of, relating to, or being aggressive or defensive social interaction (such as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species.

Allogrooming:
Social grooming within a species.

Diurnal:
Active during daylight hours.

Endemic:
Native or restricted to a certain area or country.

Frugivorous:
Having a diet that consists of fruits.

Intrasexual selection:
When members of the same sex (within a species) compete with each other in order to gain opportunities to mate with others, e.g. the male against male competition for females.

Polygynous:
A mating system in which one male mates and lives with multiple females.

Slash and burn agriculture:
​A method of unsustainable farming where farmers clear land by cutting and burning flora in order to create an empty field—a “swidden”—for cultivation. Such practices are detrimental to local ecosystems.

Sympatric: 
Occurring or living in the same area; overlapping in distribution.   

Tooth-comb:
The incisors on the lower front jaw of some animals are grouped as if to form a comb. The tooth-comb is used by these animals to groom and clean their fur or hair.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions

Fun Facts

The fossil record for lemurs dates back to the Eocene era.

The name lemur comes from the Latin word lemures, which means “ghosts.”

There is an EEP European breeding program for crowned lemurs to maintain a genetically healthy and stable population.

It has been suggested that more humid environments result in smaller crowned lemur group sizes.

The only other lemur that is as sexually dimorphic as the crowned lemur is the blue-eyed lemur.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics 
Crowned lemur groups range from five to fifteen individuals—five or six is the average—and will contain adult individuals of both sexes. Larger groups do not generally have interactions with other groups of the same size. They will also break up into subgroups of anywhere from one to four individuals in order to forage, which often brings them down to the forest floor.

Females are dominant over males in the group, which gives them advantages for food selection and choice of mates. Allogrooming is also very important in the development and maintenance of social bonds, which is true for all prosimians. Crowned lemurs utilized their long, flat fingers and their tooth combs to groom.

Communication
Crowned lemur communication, as with all primates, can be rather complex. They use a variety of communication types, like chemical, visual, tactile, and vocal. 

  • Scent marking (chemical)
  • Body posturing (visual)
  • Facial expressions (visual)
  • Grooming (tactile)
    • Maintains and establishes social bonds
  • Vocalizations
    • Foraging subgroups especially will use vocalizations to maintain contact with or to locate other subgroups when distances are large; these are described as “piercing yaps.”

Reproduction and Family
With crowned lemurs, mating occurs in late May and early June and births take place from mid-September through October. Earlier births tend to coincide with the first rainfalls and often occur in nutrionally richer, wetter areas (conversely, later births occur in drier forests where fruit availability is low).

Females have a 34-day reproductive cycle and the gestation period is 125 days. On average, one or two young are born at a time, each weighing approximately 2.1 oz (60 g). Single infants and twins appear to be equally common. Nursing continues until the infant is between five and six months of age and weaning occurs shortly thereafter, between six and seven months of age. Infants ride on their mothers’ bellies for the first three weeks, then shift to nurse and eventually move to the back.

Crowned lemurs are polygynous, which little intrasexual selection among males. This, along with the absence of a male size advantage, is one possible explanation for the pattern of female dominance in crowned lemurs. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at about 20 months. There is no documentation for the role of males in parental care.

Photo credit: Charles J. Sharp/Creative Commons

Ecological Role
The ecological role of crowned lemurs has not been studied in depth, but it is likely that they influence the local food webs by acting as a prey species for raptors and fossas. They may also be important in seed dispersal and plant pollination, considering their frugivorous diet.

Conservation Status and Threats
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists the crowned lemur as Endangered (IUCN, 2018). Their population trend is decreasing, with total population estimates ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 individuals. As populations become more and more patchily distributed in fragmented forest habitats, genetic interchange becomes increasingly difficult and increases the likelihood for extinction. Even in protected reserves, poorly protected borders allow crowned lemurs to be hunted by the local people as food or to be kept as pets. Poaching, especially in Montagne d’Ambre National Park, is widespread and growing.

Additional threats to the crowned lemur include habitat loss due to slash and burn agriculture, charcoal production, mining for sapphires and gold, and illegal logging.

Conservation Efforts
Crowned lemurs are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in order to reduce the threats to their species’ survival.

They also occur in four reserves, which were once a stable band of suitable forest habitat but are now isolated patches due to habitat loss. Those reserves are Forest d’Ambre, Montagne d’Ambre National Park, Analamera Special Reserve, and Ankarana Special Reserve.

​References:

  • ​https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/crowned-lemur/
  • https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/8199/16117225#geographic-range
  • https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Eulemur_coronatus/
  • http://animalia.bio/crowned-lemur
  • https://twycrosszoo.org/animals/crowned-lemur/
  • http://www.belfastzoo.co.uk/animals/crowned-lemur.aspx
  • https://www.lpzoo.org/animal/crowned-lemur
  • https://apenheul.com/primates-abc/crowned-lemur

Written by Rachel Heim, October 2019