SMALL-TOOTHED SPORTIVE LEMUR
Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The small-toothed sportive lemur, also known as the light-necked sportive lemur and the microdon sportive lemur, is endemic to Madagascar. They are found in the south and central regions of the eastern rainforest near Toamasina (also known as Tamatave) and Taolanaro.
The small-toothed sportive lemur lives in dense rainforests ranging from Ranomafana National Park to Andringitra National Park. The Namorona River is the northern border of their range, and the Manampatrana River acts as the southern border, where the James’ sportive lemur can also be found.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Compared to other sportive lemurs, the small-toothed sportive lemur is relatively large, weighing 2.0–2.6 lbs (0.9–1.2 kg). From head to tail they measure between 22 and 25 inches (55–64 cm), with a head-body length of 11–13 inches (27–32 cm).
The average lifespan of small-toothed sportive lemurs has not been specifically studied. However, on average, wild sportive lemurs live 8 to 10 years in the wild. In captivity they can live up to 15 years.
The pelage of the small-toothed sportive lemur is thick and reddish-brown in color, while their underside and neck are a pale grayish-brown (sometimes with a yellowish hue). Their shoulders and forelimbs are chestnut, though the color begins to darken between the shoulders down to their hind-limbs and tail. Their tail is the darkest at the tip. Some individuals have a collar of white fur. All sportive lemurs have slightly longer legs than arms to facilitate vertical leaping through their habitat.
Occasionally, the small-toothed sportive lemur is confused in the field with the weasel sportive lemur, since they look nearly identical. It is their geographic range that clearly distinguishes the two species.
The small-toothed sportive lemur has forward facing eyes with binocular vision, which allows for good perception of depth. Their hands and feet are outfitted with large digital pads used for clinging. They have a large cecum, or pouch, connected to the small and large intestines that aids in digestion.
Relative to other sportive lemur species, their molars small, hence their name: “microdon” or “small-toothed sportive lemurs.”
The small-toothed sportive lemur is primarily folivorous, but they also consume small amounts of fruits and flowers. They are cecotrophs, which means that they re-digest their feces to further break down the cellulose in their leafy diet.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Small-toothed sportive lemurs are nocturnal, sleeping in tree cavities or tangled vines during day at heights of 3.2 to 26 feet (1–8 meters). Being an arboreal species, they leap from branch to branch at heights of 16.5 to 49 feet (5–15 meters). The athleticism of their leaps lends the genus its “sportive” moniker. Rather than jumping from horizontal branch to horizontal branch, they are vertical leapers, clinging to vertical branches or tree trunks and leaping from vertical support to vertical support. Large digital pads on their hands and feet allow the sportive lemur to cling tightly onto trees and easily release when leaping to the next tree.
Sportive lemurs are solitary primates; however, they may sleep with another sportive lemur in their territory. The male’s territory overlaps that of one or more females. In some sportive lemur species, specifically the white-footed sportive lemur (L. leucopus), large males can have up to five females in his territory while smaller males may only have one or two. During mating season, the male breeds with the females in his territory.
There are 24 species of medium-sized lemurs in the Lepilemuridae family. They are all found in Madagascar and are nocturnal.
The species name “microdon” is derived from Ancient Greek: “micro,” meaning small; and “odon,” meaning tooth.
The small-toothed sportive lemur has a polygynous mating system. Males visit each female they have mated with during the breeding season. Males are highly territorial and aggressively defend their territory.
Reports of nighttime activities vary. Some studies found that sportive lemurs traveled 0.17 miles (0.27 km) in one night and rest in their nests for the majority of the night. Other studies found that they spend 13% of the night at rest and traveled an average of 0.25 miles (0.40 m) while foraging.
Although there is little specific information about small-toothed sportive lemurs, it is likely that their behavior is similar to other species in the same genus (Lepilemur).
Compared to other sportive lemurs, the small-toothed sportive species vocalizes significantly less. However, adult males will emit a “loud call”—which can sound similar to a crow-like call—to demarcate their territory and advertise other males that this territory is occupied.
Other communication in sportive lemurs in general includes scent marking to establish territorial boundaries.
Females give birth to an average of one offspring per year. Offspring are raised entirely by the mother, who provides food and protection. While foraging, the mother “parks” her babies on a branch and sets out for food. Birthing occurs between September and December, after a gestational period (the period of fetal development) of 4–5 months (120–150 days). Young sportive lemurs are weaned at about four months, but can remain with the mother up to a year. Both male and female sportive lemurs reach sexual maturity at around 18 months.
Sportive lemurs make a positive impact on their ecosystem by dispersing seeds throughout the forest. They also serve as prey to native boa species.
For much of the 20th century, the small-toothed sportive lemur was considered a subspecies of the weasel sportive lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus). This has led to a lack of detailed anatomical studies and field surveys as well as difficulty observing them in the wild.
Due to recent taxonomic changes and lack of clarity about the population size and range of small-toothed sportive lemurs, they were listed as Data Deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2008). Primatologists and taxonomists later realized that there were slight variations among sportive lemur species, placing the small-toothed sportive lemur as its own species, while also recognizing a total of seven sportive lemur species at the time (there are now 24 known species of sportive lemurs). Once recognized as a unique species, surveys of the conservation status of small-toothed sportive lemurs categorized them as Endangered (IUCN, 2020).
The main threat to the species is habitat loss, specifically through slash and burn agriculture. Hunting pressures are also a huge threat. Hunting—both with spears and by chopping down trees known to have nest holes—happens often.
Overall, their geographic range is severely fragmented and undergoing continuous decline. This has led to a decrease in habitat quality and, unfortunately, a decline in the number of mature individuals.
The small-toothed sportive lemur is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They are found in two national parks including Andringitra and Ranomafana, and temporarily in Midongy du Sud National Park, though the population there is uncertain as it may be the Fleuretes sportive lemur (Lepilemur fleuretae). Further studies on population distribution, population trends, and population size are needed.
- Mittermeier RA., Konstant WR., Nicoll ME., and Langrand O. Lemurs of Madagascar, An Action Plan for their Conservation. 1992. IUCN Species Survival Commission: A Global Network for Species Survival. 1-65.
- Ramaromilanto B., Lei R., Engberg SE., Johnson SE., et al. 2009. Sportive Lemur Diversiy at Mananara-Nord Biosphere Reserve, Madagascar. Occasional Papers, Museum of Texas Tech University. 1-26.
- Harcourt, C. and Thornback, J. 1990. Lemurs of Madagascar and the Comoros. The IUCN Red Data Book> IUCN Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.
Written by Tara Covert, September 2019