WHITE-FOOTED SPORTIVE LEMUR

Lepilemur leucopus

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
White-footed sportive lemurs, also known as white-footed weasel lemurs or dry-bush weasel lemurs, are endemic to the southern region of Madagascar, an island located off the east coast of Africa. In Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar, they are called songiky.

White-footed sportive lemurs are mainly found within the tropical dry shrubland of Didiereaceae and gallery forests that are dominated by spiny-leafed succulents. They occupy the lower strata of the forest canopy.

White-footed sportive lemur range, IUCN 2020

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
The white-footed sportive lemur’s head-to-body length averages 9.5–10.2 in (24–26 cm), with the tail adding another 8.3–10.2 in (21–26 cm). On average, they weigh approximately 1.2 lbs (0.54 kg).

Their lifespan is not entirely known, although some scientists estimate up to 10 years based on the lifespans of other sportive lemur species. White-footed sportive lemurs are unable to survive outside of their native habitat, and therefore do not thrive in captivity.

Appearance
White-footed sportive lemurs are medium-sized lemurs with long tails and long limbs that allow them to climb and leap vertically with ease throughout their habitat. Their coats are medium-gray with hints of darker coloring along their shoulders and limbs. An even darker shade is present on their heads. Their tail is also dark-brown in color.

They have short, pointed faces and large, rounded ears. As prosimian primates, they have forward-facing eyes and binocular vision. 

Large pads on their hands and feet allow them to cling to trees as they traverse their environment.

What Does It Mean?

Arboreal:
Physically adapted to living primarily or exclusively in trees.

Didiereaceae:
A family of piny-leafed succulant plants adapted to the dry habitat of southern Madagascar.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions

Diet
The white-footed sportive lemur is primarily folivorous, enjoying a diet of leaves as well as some species of vine. Their favorites are the leaves of Tamarindus indica and Euphorbia tiruculli plantsAlthough this is the main part of their diet, they also dine on fruits and flowers.

They are specially adapted to their unique habitat and diet. Nature has outfitted them with a large caecum, a pouch that connects to the junction of the small and large intestines. The bacteria present in the caecum allow them to digest the high cellulose content found in their leafy diet. To further aide in the breakdown of cellulose, white-footed sportive lemurs practice coprotrophagy; that is, they re-digest their feces to further break down the cellulose found in tough succulent leaves.

Their metabolic rate is among the lowest of all primates. Because of their nutrient-poor diets, this facilitates energy conservation.

Behavior and Lifestyle
White-footed sportive lemurs are solitary, nocturnal, and arboreal primates. Their primary means of locomotion is leaping vertically through vines and branches of the vegetation they reside in.

As small nocturnal primates, they sleep in tree-cavities or bundles of vegetation during the day, and travel throughout the night to feed. Since their diets are nutritionally poor, rather than traveling from feeding site to feeding site, they conserve energy by defending their home-based resources from competitors.

Daily Life and Group Dynamics 
As solitary creatures, white-footed sportive lemurs do not live in groups. However, a male’s territory may overlap with that of one to five females. This facilitates breeding.

Primarily social interaction and bonds are between a mother and her daughter. A daughter may remain in her mother’s territory once she reaches maturity and beyond. Males, on the other hand, disperse in order to stake out their own territory. Males and females may co-exist peacefully in the same region, but males will fight quite violently to ward off any other males with designs on encroaching on their territory.

Fun Facts

Songiky, the Malagasy name for the white-footed sportive lemur, has no plural form. Songiky can refer to one or multiple animals.

White-footed sportive lemurs do not use scent to mark their territory, as some lemur species do. Instead, they rely on surveillance and calls to maintain their territorial boundaries. 

Communication
Like many primates, the primary modes of communication between white-footed sportive lemurs is vocalization and touch. Their calls are quite diverse, ranging from territory defense signals to simple contact calls. Grooming and nose-touching are common signs of greeting, mostly witnessed between a mother and her offspring. Adult males will emit a “loud call,” which is a crow-like call, and is used to signal to other males that he already occupies a certain territory. This call begins with a series of harsh “hein” sounds, which are followed up by high-pitched “hee” sounds. A “contact call” is a kiss-like sound used to maintain contact between a mother and her infant as the mother forages at night with her baby “parked” on a nearby tree branch. Either gender will emit a “contact rejection call” when an unwanted white-footed sportive lemur approaches.

Reproduction and Family
White-footed sportive lemurs are polygamous, with males mating with multiple females within their own territory. The number of females within a male’s territory may range from two to five, usually depending on how large the male is. The larger he is, the larger the territory that he can defend, and the more females who may live within that territory.

They breed between May and July. With a gestation period of around 4.5 months, birthing occurs between September and November. Infants are born with their eyes open and are immediatley able to cling to branches. Parental care comes only from the infant’s mother. There is no documented involvement of males engaging in the rearing of their offspring.

Photo credit: gailhampshire/Creative Commons

Ecological Role
As folivores, white-footed sportive lemrus play an important role in maintaining the health of the forests they live in. As they consume leaves, light better penetrates the canopy of the forest. When the light reaches the forest floor (rather than being blocked by leaves) it aids new plant growth beneath the grown trees. This helps the forest to continue its existence with the growth of new vegetation. So by eating their food, these lemurs help the forest to continue to prosper with new plant life.

Conservation Status and Threats
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the white-footed sportive lemur as Endangered, appearing in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2012). Their population are decreasing. They are threatened by deforestation of their habitat in order to make room for agriculture and other farming endeavors, as well as charcoal production and logging.

Conservation Efforts
Two national parks currently have white-footed sportive lemur populations within them. These parks, Andohahela and Tsimanampetsotsa, help protect land crucial to the survival of these lemurs. In addition, the Berenty Private Reserve fosters land for these lemurs to thrive on. The preservation of habitat for these animals is a necessity in order to guarantee their continued existence.

References:

  • https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Lepilemur_leucopus/
  • https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/11618/16123261#conservation-actions
  • https://www.wildmadagascar.org/wildlife/species/Lepilemur_leucopus/
  • http://www.theprimata.com/lepilemur_leucopus/
  • https://www.wildmadagascar.org/people/malagasy-animals/
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/lepilemur
  • https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sportive-lemurs-lepilemuridae
  • https://photos.wildmadagascar.org/images/lepilemur20-21_0096.shtml
  • https://www.google.com/search?q=caecum&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS709US711&oq=caecum&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1157j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Written by Brendan McCarthy, June 2019