PEYRIERAS’ WOOLLY LEMUR
Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The Peyrieras’ woolly lemur (Avahi peyrierasi), also called the Peyrieras’ avahi, is endemic to southeastern Madagascar and is one of the 111 lemur species on the island. Populations live south of the Nesivolo and Mangoro River systems in Manara, Vatoalatsaka, Sangalampona, Mahasoarivo, and Ranomafana. They live tucked away in dense tree canopies 32.8–65.6 feet (10-20 m) high in tropical moist lowland and montane rainforests. Tropical lowlands have rich biodiversity and warm, humid temperatures. Montane rainforests extend up the slope of mountains and are slightly cooler with plentiful amounts of moss and lichen. The average elevation for populations is 2740 feet (835 m), with the highest at 5,479 feet (1,670 m).
- The Peyrieras’ woolly lemur is one of the nine species of woolly lemurs. Others include Eastern woolly lemur (Avahi laniger), Western woolly lemur (Avahi occidentalis), Sambirano woolly lemur (Avahi unicolor), Bemaraha woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei), Southern woolly lemur (Avahi meridionalis), Ramanantsoavana’s woolly lemur (Avahi ramanantsoavani), Betsileo woolly lemur (Avahi Betsileo), and Moore’s woolly lemur (Avahi mooreorum).
- Datum suggests three “types” of Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs; relationships and possible species status remain to be determined.
- Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are Strepsirrhini, a primate suborder group that includes lemurs and lorises.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are compact with a long, narrow tail. They have a head-body length of 10.3–12.5 inches (26.1–31.7 cm) and a tail length of 11.2–13.5 inches (28.5–34.4 cm). From head to tail, their total body length ranges from 21.5–26.2 inches (54.7–66.6 cm) and weigh 2 to 2.6 pounds (0.9–1.2 kg). Their lifespan in the wild is currently unknown; as of 2018, there was no record of any in captivity.
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs have a speckled, gray-brown dorsal coat that camouflages perfectly with tree bark—the resemblance is quite impressive! You can only imagine how soft they are by looking at their dense, woolly fur. They have white bellies that are hidden from view when they hug tree branches and a white band that runs along their legs. Their pelage transitions to a reddish-brown color at the base of their tail, which hangs sweepingly from tree branches or curls up snugly to their bodies. Their foxy faces match their dorsal coats and are encircled with white fur; individuals can also sport white cheeks or beards. The focal point of their face is their striking, amber-colored eyes. Like most lemurs, they are wide, watchful, and reflective to help them see at night.
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are folivores, meaning they primarily eat leaves. Young leaves make up 98% of their diet. Studies suggest lemurs evolved to depend on leaves as a food source for availability, a lessened need for competition, and the ability to survive habitat disturbances. Information from the Vato study site at Ranomafana National Park found that Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs love to eat evergreen shrubs and the flowering plants. This isn’t to say that they don’t enjoy sweets, though! Flowers and fruits are also included in their diet. One study even found they occasionally eat insects and spiders.
The full list of known food sources includes Eugenia, Chrysophylum, Ocotea, Allophyllus arborens, Mascarenhasia arborescens, Dombeya pubescens, Alberta humblotii, Canthium sp., Protorhus sp., Bakarella sp.., Oncostemum botryoides, Harungana madagascariensis, and syzygium sp.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are nocturnal and arboreal. They are foragers and are social in small family groups. Night walks by biologists at Ranomafana National Park have observed limited nightly activity. Researchers have gathered they spend 59.5% of their time resting, 22% feeding, 13.5% traveling, and 5% grooming. Their suspected home range is estimated to be on average 2.5–3.5 acres (1–1.4 ha).
Woolly lemurs are arboreal and spend most of their time in trees foraging for leaves. As they search for young leaves, they leap from branch to branch. When they rest, they sit vertically, clinging onto the tree limbs with horizontal branches for support. They sleep on open branches and choose from multiple sleeping sites. They prefer to use higher branches for feeding and travel but will move their sleeping sites to lower heights during the dry season.
The first lemur-like primates on the fossil record appeared roughly 60 million years ago in mainland Africa before crossing over to Madagascar.
Madagascar is so important for primatologists that it makes up one of the four major study regions. The others include the whole of South and Central America, all of southern and southeast Asia, and mainland Africa.
Do those eyes look reflective to you? All Strepsirrhines have a reflective layer in their eyes called tapetum lucidum. It is located behind the retina and allows additional light to pass through the eye for enhanced night vision. It’s pretty important to see in the dark when you’re nocturnal!
Primatologists are still learning about Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs’ daily life and group dynamics. A recent 2017 study from the Journal of Mammalogy states that Strepsirrhines research has been of “interest in recent years because they are socially highly diverse and complex, exhibit diverse, ecological adaptations, and, sadly, include some of the most endangered mammals today.” However, as a nocturnal species, it is often difficult to observe them in the wild.
Group communication includes whistling and the genus-specific “ava-hy” woolly lemur cry. This may be used as a powerful alarm vocalization or a location call. Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are known to grunt and snort when disturbed.
Little is known about reproduction and infant care. The only source of information found comes from a researcher who observed females carrying babies during the dry season, from June to August. However, looking at other woolly lemurs may offer possible ideas as to how Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs may reproduce and care for their young. Eastern woolly lemurs (Avahi laniger) mate between March and May and give birth in August and September. Newborns ride along their mother’s backs until they are old enough to climb and leap on their own—roughly between the age of one or two months. Weaning occurs at six months, and they are fully independent at the age of two.
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs are prey to serpent eagles (Eutriorchis astur), Henst’s goshawk (Accipiter henstii), Madagascar Harrier-hawks (Polybroides radiates), and fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox). A study in 2007 found that Avahi are the preferred prey of the harrier hawk. Many lemurs are credited as seed dispersers.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Peyrieras’s woolly lemur as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2018), appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs suffer habitat loss due to agriculture, aquaculture, and annual and perennial non-timber crop harvesting. 37% of Madagascar’s forests were lost from 1973 to 2014 and 46% of the forest is located less than 0.6 miles (100 m) from the forest edge. Based on the projected declining rates, it is estimated that a population reduction of at least 30% will occur over the next 30 years if their habitat continues to be degraded. Peyrieras’ woolly lemurs also suffer from hunting and trapping.
The Peyrieras’ woolly lemur is listed in 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.
Known populations live in three national parks (Ranomofana National Park, Andringitra, and Midongy du Sud), and as of 2018, there are no records of them in captivity. Ranomafana National Park is a key area for conservation and research, with two key research sites (Vato and Tala) that continue to provide information.
- Herrera, J. P., Wright, P. C., Lauterbur, E., Ratovonjanahary, L., & Taylor, L. L. (2011). The effects of habitat disturbance on lemurs at Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 32(5), 1091–1108. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-011-9525-8
- Peter M. Kappeler, Frank P. Cuozzo, Claudia Fichtel, Jörg U. Ganzhorn, Sharon Gursky-Doyen, Mitchell T. Irwin, Shinichiro Ichino, Richard Lawler, K. Anne-Isola Nekaris, Jean-Baptiste Ramanamanjato, Ute Radespiel, Michelle L. Sauther, Patricia C. Wright, Elke Zimmermann, Long-term field studies of lemurs, lorises, and tarsiers, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 98, Issue 3, 29 May 2017, Pages 661–669
- Rowe, Amanda K., et al. “Exploratory analysis reveals arthropod consumption in 10 lemur species using DNA metabarcoding.” American Journal of Primatology, vol. 83, no. 6, 5 Apr. 2021, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.23256.
Written by Dana Esp, September 2023