GEOFFORY’S DWARF LEMUR
Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus major), also known as the greater dwarf lemur, inhabits tropical rainforests and dry shrub biomes across northern and eastern Madagascar. They are found at high and low elevations, including the rainforests in the Vohimena and Anosy mountains as well as the coastal littoral (salt tolerant) forests in Mandena. There is also a small, isolated population located in the central-west area of Madagascar. Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs are even found living in coffee and lychee plantations.
In the northeastern areas of Madagascar, including Makirovana and Tsihomanaomby, they live in sympatry, in overlapping distribution, with fat-tailed dwarf lemurs (C. medius) and Crossley’s dwarf lemurs (C. crossleyi).
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Weighing between 4–10 ounces (.11–2.8 kg), the Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur has a head-body length of 9.05 inches (23 cm) to 9.84 inches (25 cm). Their tails are notably longer than their head and body, measuring 19–21.7 inches (50–55 cm). Their lifespan in captivity is 13.4 years, with some undocumented claims reaching 15 years. Data from closely related species suggests their longevity may be even greater.
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs have stout bodies complimented with exceptionally long tails. Their fur grows in shades of auburn or gray, with cream-colored underbellies. A faint dorsal stripe occasionally runs across their midline. Gray pelage is more common in populations in Tsihomanaomby, Madagascar.
Their large orb-like eyes, which are equipped with night vision, are encircled by black fur, contrasting their brown faces. They have pointed noses, small, thin ears that sprout sparse hairs, and sprawling digits used for gripping branches.
At the end of each wet season, their tails fatten substantially—sometimes making up 30% of their body mass—to serve as energy reserves for their annual torpor. Torpor, unique to some dwarf and mouse lemur species, is a critical survival strategy during Madagascar’s dry season when food and water are scarce. It is a sleep-like state in which the body decreases its physiological activity, organs slow down, and temperature and metabolic rate drop, allowing Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs to survive on their own fat reserves.
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs’ omnivorous diet includes fruits, flowers, buds, vine leaves, honey, insects, and small vertebrates. Fruit nectar is a key part of their diet from November to December. This period coincides with the end of torpor leading up to the birthing season.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs are nocturnal and most active during the wet season from September to May. They build nests that are 32–65 feet (10–20 m) high made of leaves, twigs, and grass. At other times, they pad trees with dry leaves and fashion comfortable nooks.
During the dry season, also known as aestivation, Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs engage in torpor and live off those famously fat tails! Torpor lasts for over a month while they sleep in tree hollows and root tunnels. Their body temperature, heart rate, and metabolic rate sharply decline, which helps protect them when food and water are limited, as the dry season is Madagascar’s winter.
- Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs enter a sleep-like state known as torpor every dry season. Torpor is a sleep-like state when the body experiences a decrease in physiological activity and energy is burned more slowly. This helps them when food and water are scarce.
- During torpor, Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs live off fat reserves in their tails. Before the dry season begins, they are noticeably larger and can make up 30% of their body mass.
- The Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur almost always births twins-sometimes, even triplets!
Little information is known about the group dynamics of these diminutive lemurs. As a result, not all sources agree on whether they live solitary lifestyles with polygynous mating systems or whether they live in small monogamous family groups made up of mated pairs and generational offspring. There are reports of up to three adult individuals found sleeping together at a time.
An individual’s home range expands up to .12 miles (.2 km) in diameter with group overlaps.
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs are not overly vocal but do exchange soft calls. Males and rivals utilize tactile communication; when upset or alarmed, they emit trill cries. They mark branches and trees with feces and urine, leading researchers to believe they may also have a chemical communication system.
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs mate in October and November after their restful period of torpor. A male begins by approaching a female while wagging his tail. He then holds her face with his hands and licks her neck and flanks. Roughly 70 days after copulating, females birth a set of twins (sometimes triplets) in leaf nests that are 19.6–39.3 feet (6–12 m) tall. Researchers speculate that Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs are monogamous based on their small group sizes.
Babies are born defenseless and rely solely on their mothers for the first 45 days of life. Mothers nurse and carry them in their mouths until they are ready to climb, at about 3–4 weeks. At the young age of 1.5 months, they earn their full independence and at 10–14 months are sexually mature and ready to reproduce.
These island-endemic lemurs are known pollinators, spending up to 2–7 minutes licking nectar from one flower before moving on to the next. Fruit consumption aids in seed dispersal.
The Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur is prey to the ring-tailed mongoose, fossa, tenrec, civet, Malagasy tree boa, and Madagascar buzzard.
The Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur is listed as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2018) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture, and both annual and perennial non-timber crop harvesting threaten their habitat. Data from the IUCN indicates that, between 1973 and 2014, Madagascar lost 37% of its forest cover, with an annual deforestation rate of 1.1% per year from 2010 to 2014. Today, 46% of Madagascar’s forest is less than 0.6 miles (100 m) from the forest edge. Given the continuing decline in area, extent, and quality of habitat, in addition to fragmentation throughout its range, Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur populations are assumed to be in decline. In addition, they are reported to be hunted, especially in the northern range. Further impacting wild populations, they are captured and kept as pets locally. Further studies into population status, geographic distribution, and threats may warrant listing this species as Endangered in the future.
Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments whose goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Suggested conservation strategies to help populations include land, water, site, and area management. Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs inhabit 8 national parks including Andohahela, Andringitra, Mananara-Nord, Marojejy, Masoala, Midongy du Sud, Montagne d’Ambre, and Ranomafana. They are also located in the Mandena Conservation Zone; Zahamena Nature Reserve; Anjanaharibe-Sud, Mangerivola, and Pic d’Ivohibe reserves; and Betampona, Tsaratanana, and Makira Natural Parks.
A notable conservation effort in Toamasina, Madagascar, utilizes canopy bridges to allow for the safe crossing throughout mining zones. Researchers surveyed Geoffroy’s dwarf lemurs (among other species) using seven of these structures to safely traverse roads and pipelines.
Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar (BCM) works to protect Greater dwarf lemurs as well as many other primates. Their Sahafina location uses conservation leases and partnerships with local communities to protect living zones.
Written by Dana Esp, August 2023