Greater Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus major)

The greater dwarf lemur has an average mass that ranges from 350 to 450 grams in the adult (Wright and Martin, 1995). This species is not sexually dimorphic (Wright and Martin, 1995). During the summer individuals deposit fat in the tail for use during the dormant winter period (Wright and Martin, 1995). The legs on this species are longer than the arms, and the tail being shorter than the trunk. This species has fur which is short and dense and it is gray-brown to reddish on the dorsal and paler on the ventral side (Tattersall, 1982; cited in Harcourt and Thornback, 1990). Around the eyes the pelage is dark to form rings (Tattersall, 1982; cited in Harcourt and Thornback, 1990).

The greater dwarf lemur is found in Eastern Madagascar, in the wet, humid forests. More specifically this species is found from Taolanaro in the south to Montagne d'Ambre in the north and to Tsaratanana Massif and the Sambirano region in the west (Tattersall, 1982; cited in Harcourt and Thornback, 1990). This species lives in primary and secondary rainforests (Martin, 1984; cited in Harcourt and Thornback, 1990).

The greater dwarf lemur primarily consumes fruits and flower nectar (Wright and Martin, 1995). The fruit eaten includes: Mammea sp., Ficus sp., Ravensara sp., Aphloia theaeformis, Psidium cattleyanum, Psychotria sp., and Bakarella grisea (Wright and Martin, 1995). Flower nectar is an important part of the diet from November to December with the main species being Strongylodon sp. (Fabaceae) (Wright and Martin, 1995). When an individual feeds on the nectar of this species it will part the petals of the flower with the hands and lick the nectar (Wright and Martin, 1995). The individual would lick from 2 to 7 minutes before moving on to another flower (Wright and Martin, 1995). This species will also consume young vine leaves, for example of the species Plectaneia sp. (Wright and Martin, 1995). They feed in a quadrupedal posture (Fleagle, 1988). This species enters into a state of dormancy during the dry season during the Malagasy winter, and this species is mainly active during the more wet and humid summer from the months of October to March (Wright and Martin, 1995). This species occurs in the forest at an average height of 12.2 meters (Wright and Martin, 1995). Of the potential predators for this species are the boa constrictor, Sanzinia madagascariensis, and the ring-tailed mongoose, Galidea elegans (Wright and Martin, 1995). The greater dwarf lemur has been recorded to have been preyed upon during its dormant period by the ring-tailed mongoose, thus suggesting that possibly protection from predators is not a reason why this species becomes dormant (Wright and Martin, 1995). The main reason for the greater dwarf lemur entering a state of dormancy is because of a lack of food during the dry season (Wright and Martin, 1995). There are not much fruit available and flower nectar is available during the greatest availability of fruit which occurs during the summer months (Wright and Martin, 1995). During the day this species probably sleeps in a nest hole (Harcourt and Thornback, 1990).

The greater dwarf lemur is an arboreal quadruped, and is not a very agile leaper (Fleagle, 1988).

The Greater Dwarf Lemur is a solitary species which is also nocturnal.

squeak: This call is high in pitch and plaintive sounding and is emitted with the mouth closed (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). This call is usually emitted by an infant and serves the purpose of a contact call, that is the infant desires the same call from its mother to keep in contact (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). This call is also heard during allogrooming between adults (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

whistle: This call is high-pitched and is hard to hear with human ears (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). This call is emitted by adults of both sexes and serves as a distant communication call and possibly a territorial call (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

grunt: This call is high-pitched and powerful in nature and also given in a series (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). This call is given when an individual is attacked or disturbed in the nest (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979). At the same time the individual will try to retreat when giving this call, and will also sometimes lunge out and try to bite at what is disturbing it (Petter and Charles-Dominique, 1979).

fecal marking: This is where an individual will deposit a cylindrical piece of feces behind them as they move (Schilling, 1980). The length of these deposits are reported to be 40 cm on average (Schilling, 1980). This behavior tends to be performed at the periphery of the territory (Schilling, 1980). This behavior is performed to demarcate territory (Schilling, 1980).



In the greater dwarf lemur mating occurs in October and births occur from November to February (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). During the breeding season the female estrous cycles every 30 days, where the vaginal orafice is open for only 2 to 3 days (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). The mating occurs such as this: first the male holds the female with his hands and then licks her flanks and neck (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). When he is doing is this the male will also vocalize, waves the tail, and grips the ankles of the female (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). The female's response to these actions by the male is to lay on the ground, with the ventral surface facing the ground (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). The copulation bouts last 2 to 3 minutes, separated by 10 minute intervals (Van Horn and Eaton, 1979). Before giving birth the female will build a nest (Wright and Martin, 1995). Nest building occurs from December to January and the nests have an average height of 6 to 12 meters (Wright and Martin, 1995). This species generally gives birth to twins. The infant can not cling to the mother at birth but rather she carries the infant in her mouth (Petter-Rousseaux, 1964; cited in Harcourt and Thornback, 1990).

Burton, F. 1995. The Multimedia Guide to the Non-human Primates. Prenctice-Hall Canada Inc.

Fleagle, J. G. 1988. Primate Adaptation and Evolution. Academic Press.

Harcourt, C. and Thornback, J. 1990. Lemurs of Madagascar and the Comoros. The IUCN Red Data Book. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.

Martin, R.D. 1984. Dwarf and mouse lemurs. in The Encyclopaedia of Mammals: 1. ed. Macdonald, D. George Allen and Unwin, London.

Petter, J.J. and Charles-Dominique, P. 1979. Vocal communication in prosimians. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. Doyle, G.A. and Martin, R.D. Academic Press, New York.

Petter-Rousseaux, A. 1964. Reproductive physiology and behavior of the Lemuroidae. in Evolution and Genetic Biology of the Primates. ed. Buettner-Janusch, J. Academic Press, New York.

Schilling, A. 1980. Seasonal variation in the fecal marking of Cheirogaleus medius in simulated climatic conditions. in Nocturnal Malagasy Primates: Ecology, Physiology, and Behavior. eds. Charles-Dominique, P., Cooper, H.M., Hladick, A., Hladick, C.M., Pages, E., Pariente, G.F., Petter-Rousseaux, A., Schilling, A., Petter, J.J. Academic Press, New York.

Tattersall, I. 1982. The Primates of Madagascar. Columbia University Press, New York.

Van Horn, R.N. and Eaton, G.G. 1979. Reproductive physiology and behavior in prosimians. in The Study of Prosimian Behavior. eds. Doyle, G.A. and Martin, R.D. Academic Press, New York.

Wright, P.C. and Martin, L.B. 1995. Predation, pollination and tropor in two nocturnal prosimians: Cheirogaleus major and Microcebus rufus in the rain forest of Madagascar. in Creatures of the Dark: The Nocturnal Prosimians. eds. Alterman, L., Doyle, G.A., and Izard, M.K. Plenum Press, New York.

Last Updated: October 6, 2003.
[The Primata] [Primate Fact Sheets] [Family Cheirogaleidae] [Cheirogaleus Links]