Life span: up to 23 years (H. griseus)
Total population: 3500-5500 (H. alaotrensis), others unknown
Gestation: 135 to 145 days
Height: 67.8 cm to 81 cm
Weight: .87 kg to 1.55 kg
Species: H. alaotrensis, H. aureus, H. griseus, H. meridionalis, H. occidentalis
Other names: H. alaotrensis: H. griseus
alaotrensis, Alaotra reed lemur, Alaotran bamboo lemur, Alaotran gentle lemur,
Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur, Lake Alaotra gentle lemur; hapalemur d'Alaotra
(French); Alaotra halbmaki (German); bandro (Malagasy); H. aureus: golden bamboo
lemur, golden lemur; gouden halfmaki (Dutch); hapalémur doré
(French); goldener bambuslemur (German); bokombolomena, varibolomena (Malagasy);
lemur cariancho (Spanish); gyllenbambulemur, gyllenhalvmaki (Swedish); H.
griseus: H. ranomafanensis, grey gentle lemur, eastern lesser bamboo lemur,
eastern gray bamboo lemur, bamboo lemur, lesser bamboo lemur; kleine halfmaki
(Dutch); hapalémur gris, petit hapalémur (French); ostlicher
grauer halbmaki (German); bokombolo, kotrika, kontè (Malagasy); lemur
cariancho (Spanish); grå bambulemur, grå halvmaki, grå
lemurträskhalvmaki, västlig halvmaki (Swedish); H. meridionalis:
rusty-gray lesser bamboo lemur, southern grey bamboo lemur, southern lesser
bamboo lemur, southern gentle lemur; petit hapalémur méridional
(French); halo (Malagasy); H. occidentalis: H. griseus occidentalis, Sambirano
bamboo lemur, Sambirano lesser bamboo lemur, western gentle lemur, western grey
bamboo lemur, western lesser bamboo lemur; hapalémur occidental (French);
westlicher grauer halbmaki (German); bokombolo, akomba-valiha, bekola, kofiy,
The taxonomy of the genus Hapalemur is debated. Groves (2005) recognizes
four full species of Hapalemur: H. alaotrensis, H. aureus,
H. griseus, and H. occidentalis. As with other animals, the
data used to differentiate species or elevate types to species are different
depending on the researcher. In the Hapalemur case, these lines of data are in
conflict with one another, and result in confusion. For example, H.
meridionalis is sometimes considered a full species based on cytogenetic
data and H. alaotrensis which is morphologically specifically distinct
but not so cytogenetically (Fausser et al. 2002; Rabarivola et al. 2007). To
avoid confusion, the approach taken by Mittermeier et al. (2006) will be
followed here in which five full species are recognized, but also a need for
further clarification of the relationships between the species is acknowledged.
Several subspecies of H. griseus have recently been described but are
not included here as such (Rabarivola et al. 2007). Finally, while recognizing
significant recent alterations in the distributions of H. griseus,
H. meridionalis, and H. occidentalis due to new cytogenetic
data (Rabarivola et al. 2007), information about these species is included under
the taxon given by the researcher, even though in light of new data this may not
Photo: Rachel Kramer
Bamboo lemurs are generally small to medium lemurs and are mostly gray
(Mittermeier et al. 2006; 2008). They are approximately the same size as
smallish housecats (Pollock 1986). The tail is usually longer than the body
(Warter et al. 1987). The head is lighter in color than the rest of the body
(Warter et al. 1987; Mittermeier et al. 2006). The ears of H. griseus,
H. meridionalis, and H. occidentalis are larger than those
possessed by H. alaotrensis and H. aureus, where they almost
cannot be seen in the fur of the head (Groves 2001). The noses and faces of
bamboo lemurs are shorter than in other types of lemur (Warter et al. 1987;
Mittermeier et al. 2006). Bamboo lemurs possess scent glands on their forearms
and on their underside near their armpits (Meier et al. 1987; Warter et al.
1987; Groves 2001).
H. aureus dorsal surfaces are grey-brown with underlying orange
pelage and their ventrum is yellow. Their face is black with a gold-yellow ring
around the face encompassing their cheeks, eyebrows and their throat (Meier et
al. 1987). The nose of H. aureus is pink (Mittermeier et al. 2006).
H. griseus are generally gray with some olive coloration (Groves 2001).
H. occidentalis are gray-brown overall with a pale face (Groves 2001).
H. meridionalis are generally gray as well but have some red
coloration, particularly on the head and body (Groves 2001). H.
alaotrensis have dense pelage which is gray-brown dorsally and lighter
ventrally. The head and neck are chestnut-brown (Mittermeier et al. 2006).
H. griseus females average 66.94 cm (26.4 in) in length while males
average 67.69 cm (26.7 in). H. meridionalis females average 66.78 cm
(26.3 in) in length and males average 67.80 cm (26.3 in). H.
occidentalis females average 66.5 cm (26.2 in) in length while males
average 67.5 cm (26.6 in). H. alaotrensis have been recorded between
77.0 and 81.0 cm (30.3 and 31.9 in) in length (Rabarivola et al. 2007).
H. alaotrensis and H. aureus are significantly larger than
the other species of bamboo lemur (Groves 2001; Rabarivola et al. 2007). H.
griseus weigh on average 0.935 kg (2.1 lb) and H. aureus weigh on
average 1.548 kg (3.4 lb) (Glander et al. 1992 compiled by Tan 1999; Tan 1999).
H. alaotrensis weigh on average 1.24 kg (2.7 lb) (Mutschler 1998;
2002). H. occidentalis is similar in size to H. griseus, with
females weighing on average 1.188 kg (2.6 lb) and males weighing 0.847 kg (1.9
lb) (Mittermeier et al. 2006; Rabarivola et al. 2007). H. meridionalis
females weigh on average 0.870 kg (1.9 lb) while males weigh 0.839 kg (1.9 in)
(Rabarivola et al. 2007). There is not significant body mass dimorphism between
male and female bamboo lemurs (Kappeler 1991; Mittermeier et al. 2006).
Bamboo lemurs leap from support to support in a vertical posture, landing
feet-first and are capable of running quickly on the ground (Petter &
Peyrieras 1975; Wright 1988). They will also run quadrupedally along supports
(Haring & Davis 1998). H. griseus are normally found around 5.9 m
(19.4 ft) above the ground and travel through leaping (48%) and quadrupedal
walking (38%) (Blanchard et al. 2007). Anecdotal evidence indicates that H.
alaotrensis can swim (Petter & Peyrieras 1975).
Photo: Tomas Junek
In captivity, H. griseus have lived over 23 years (Weigl 2005).
CURRENT RANGE MAPS (IUCN REDLIST):Hapalemur alaotrensis
| Hapalemur aureus
| Hapalemur griseus
| Hapalemur meridionalis
| Hapalemur occidentalis
Like all lemurs, the genus Hapalemur only lives on Madagascar. Distribution
accounts of H. griseus, H. occidentalis, and H.
meridiontalis have been significantly and recently altered recently in
light of new cytogenetic data (http://www.redlist.org; Rabarivola et al. 2007).
Previously, the H. griseus distribution was considered to extend from
the Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve and the Marojejy National Park in
northeastern Madagascar south to the region north of Andohahela, in the
southeastern parts of the island (Mittermeier et al. 2006). The distribution was
interrupted in the region around Lake Alaotra and met the distribution of H.
meridionalis in the southeastern parts of the island (Mittermeier et al.
2006). H. occidentalis was thought to live in western and northern
Madagascar. The species was known from the northern edges of the island, from
the Ankarana and Analamerana forests and the Sambirano region west and south to
a number of areas between the Mahavavy River and the Tsiribihina River in
west-central Madagascar (Mittermeier et al. 2006). Reflecting data obtained in
a recent study however (Rabarivola et al. 2007), the distribution of these three
species has changed considerably.
The distribution of H. griseus has been significantly altered, with
Hapalemur populations in western Madagascar between the Mahavavy and Tsiribihina
Rivers previously assigned to H. occidentalis now attributed to H.
griseus and with the southern extent of the H. griseus species now
reduced, only extending as far south as Ranamofana (http://www.redlist.org;
Rabarivola et al. 2007). Similarly, the H. occidentalis distribution
has changed, with the west-central populations of the species now attributed to
H. griseus. The distribution of H. occidentalis is now
recorded as encompassing the previously recognized northern populations but now
extending south in eastern Madagascar to Zahamena, east of Lake Alaotra
(http://www.redlist.org; Rabarivola et al. 2007).
The type locality of H. meridionalis is the Mandena forestry
station, approximately ten kilometers (6.2 miles) north of Tolagnaro (Ft.
Dauphin) and at a minimum, the species is found between the Mananara River in
the north and the Andohahela Nature Reserve although the distribution may reach
as far north as Atsimo due to a hybrid form recorded at that locality
(http://www.redlist.org; Warter & Tattersall 1994; Rabarivola et al.
The Alaotran bamboo lemur (H. alaotrensis) is found exclusively in
reed beds surrounding Lake Alaotra, the largest lake in Madagascar, which is
located on the eastern part of the island. The species distribution around the
lake is divided into two subpopulations (Mutschler & Feistner 1995).
H. aureus is found in eastern Madagascar, from Ranomafana National Park
in the north (and possibly further northeast) and south to the Andringitra
National Park, inhabiting a forest corridor between the two
(http://www.redlist.org; Mittermeier et al. 2006).
In general, H. griseus and H. aureus are found in humid
eastern lowland and montane forests (Mutschler & Tan 2003; Mittermeier et
al. 2006). H. griseus are found in an altitudinal range between
sea-level up to 2050 meters (6725.72 feet), while H. aureus range
between 625 and 1625 meters (2050.5 and 5331.4 feet) (reviewed in Goodman &
Ganzhorn 2004). H. meridionalis is known to reside in lowland and
montane subtropical rain forests and littoral forests with marshy areas
(Mutschler & Tan 2003; Mittermeier et al. 2006). This species exists at
altitudes of up to 1600 m (5249.3 ft) (Mittermeier et al. 2006). H.
occidentalis is found in dry to sub-humid primary and degraded deciduous
forests as well as bamboo scrub, also sometimes occurring in areas under a
degree of agricultural use and other degraded habitats (Hawkins et al. 1998;
Mutschler & Tan 2003; Mittermeier et al. 2006; Martinez 2008). While
characterized by their consumption of bamboo, bamboo lemurs are sometimes found
in forests without any bamboo, as is the case in the Malahelo Forest,
southeastern Madagascar, an intermediate forest type (Ramanamanjato et al.
2002). The same may be true of bamboo lemurs found in some bamboo-free areas
of northwestern Madagascar (Hawkins et al. 1998).
Among the bamboo lemurs, H. alaotrensis inhabit a habitat unlike the
other members of the genus. They are restricted to reed and papyrus marshland
vegetation surrounding Lake Alaotra in eastern Madagascar, a habitat in which
stands of reeds and papyrus are separated by water channels (Mutschler &
Feistner 1995; Nievergelt et al. 1998). H. alaotrensis is unique among
the primates in that it lives only in this marshy habitat (Nievergelt et al.
At one study site of H. griseus and H. aureus at Ranamafana
National Park in eastern Madagascar, the average temperature is 21°C
(69.8°F), but seasonally varies from 4-6° C (39.2-42.8°F) between
June-August and 28-30°C (82.4-86.0°F) between November-January (see
Tan 1999 and references therein). At this study site, a dry season occurs
between April-November and a wet season between December-March (Atsalis
The feeding ecology of bamboo lemurs is not completely known. As is implied
by their name however, most of the genus specializes in the consumption of
bamboo. Bamboo lemurs can consume far more bamboo than should be lethal to
animals of their size due to its cyanide content, although the way they manage
to avoid poisoning remains unclear (Glander et al. 1989; Yamashita et al. 2010).
Photo: Tomas Junek
At the Ranomafana National Park, H. griseus consumed over 40 species
of plant, but the diet consisted mostly of giant bamboo (Cathariostachys
madagascariensis) (72%) (Tan 1999; 2006). The rest of the foods were other
types of bamboo and grasses (16%), leaves from other plants (particularly
lianas) (4%), fruits (5%), and other foods (3%) (Tan 1999). Most of the bamboo
parts that are eaten are the young parts of the plants, and the lemurs avoid
mature leaves (Tan 1999). From month to month, the diversity of the H.
griseus diet remains relatively low, and they tend to rely on resources
that are not seasonal (Tan 1999). However, only during the wet season are other
foods such as fruit, fungus, mushrooms, leaf petioles, flowers and new leaves
included in the diet, and even then at low levels (Overdorff et al. 1997).
Geophagy in wild H. griseus is documented (Irwin et al. 2004).
Also at Ranomafana National Park, and similarly to H. griseus,
H. aureus eats mostly giant bamboo (78%), other types of bamboo and
grasses (10%), fruits (4%), and other foods (5%) (Tan 1999). H.
alaotrensis are entirely folivorous, eating the leaves and stems of only 11
plant species (Mutschler 1998; 2002). However, over 95% of the diet was
restricted to four species (Cyperus madagascariensis, Phragmites communis,
Leersia hexandra, and Echinochloa crusgalli) (Mutschler 1998). In addition,
only very specific parts of each species are eaten (Mutschler et al. 1998). In
captivity, this species has been seen eating soil (Beattie & Feistner 1998).
Little is known about the diet of H. occidentalis, but individuals
have been observed eating fruits, bamboo and liana flowers (Petter et al. 1977
cited in Tan 2006; Mutschler & Tan 2003). The diet of H.
meridionalis is completely unknown (Mutschler & Tan 2003; Tan
Activity patterns appear to vary by species among the bamboo lemurs. H.
aureus is diurnal, as is H. griseus and preliminary data indicates
that H. meridionalis is diurnal also (Mutschler & Tan 2003; Tan
2006; reviewed in Tan 2006). H. aureus spends its days resting (50%),
feeding (41%), and traveling (8%) and has a discrete rest period between
mid-morning and early afternoon (Tan 2000 cited in Tan 2006; Tan 2006).
Activities are similar in H. griseus, who spend their days resting
(41%), feeding (48%), and traveling (9%) (Tan 2000 cited in Tan 2006). Around
dusk, H. griseus move to sleeping sites (Overdorff et al. 1997).
H. alaotrensis on the other hand, is cathemeral in its activity and
exhibits substantial amounts of activity both during the day and during the
night (Mutschler et al. 1998; Mutschler 2002). However, the species spends
more time active during daylight hours than during the nighttime (Mutschler
& Tan 2003; Tan 2006). During daylight, the H. alaotrensis
activity is usually separated into an early morning activity period and a late
afternoon activity period, but the day-to-day reality of this pattern is highly
variable (Mutschler et al. 1998). However, nighttime activity is never less
than 30 minutes (Mutschler et al. 1998). H. occidentalis show some
evidence for substantial nighttime activity, with dry season (July-September)
activity predominantly occurring during hours of darkness (Mutschler 2000 cited
in Mutschler & Tan 2003). H. griseus activity changes seasonally
as well, with more resting and less traveling and feeding during the warm wet
season (Overdorff et al. 1997).
H. griseus home ranges average 0.15 km² (0.06 mi²) (although in a
different study ranged between 0.06-0.1 km²), while H. aureus home
ranges average 0.26 km² (0.1 mi²) (Wright 1986; Tan 1999). Recorded H.
occidentalis home ranges are around 0.26 km² (0.1 mi²) (Gould & Sauther
2007). In their unique habitat around Lake Aloatra, H. alaotrensis
home ranges average only 0.02 km² (0.008 mi²) (Mutschler et al. 1994 cited in
Mutschler & Feistner 1995). The daily path of H. aureus averages
365 m (1197.5 ft) while the daily path of one H. griesus group averaged
425 m (1394.4 ft) (Wright 1986; Wright et al. 1987).
H. griseus at Kalambatritra Special Reserve in south-central
Madagascar are known to exhibit latrine behavior (repeated group defecation at
specific sites), and groups defecate in turn, with adults going first followed
by juveniles (Irwin et al. 2004).
The Malagasy tree boa (Boa manditra) has been observed killing and consuming
adult H. griseus in the wild (Rakotondravony et al. 1998). Henst's
Goshawk (Accipiter henstii) and the Madagascar Harrier-hawk (Polyboroides
radiatus) are both predators of H. griseus (Karpanty 2006).
Bamboo lemurs are often found in sympatry with other species of primates.
For example, at Ranomafana National Park, H. griseus and H.
aureus are sympatric with brown mouse lemurs (Microcebus rufus), greater
dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus major), sportive lemurs (Lepilemur sp.), eastern
avahis (Avahi laniger), aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis), greater bamboo
lemurs (Prolemur simus), red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufus), red-bellied lemurs
(Eulemur rubriventer), and Milne-Edwards' sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) (Tan
While both H. griseus and H. aureus can live together in
the same habitat and consume generally the same foods, they consume different
parts of the same foods, avoiding some competition by eating parts of the same
plants with different physical properties (Yamashita et al. 2009).
Content last modified: July 22, 2010
Written by Kurt Gron.
Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2010 July 22. Primate Factsheets: Bamboo lemur (Hapalemur) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/bamboo_lemur/taxon>. Accessed 2017 February 20.