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Diademed sifaka
Propithecus diadema

This sheet covers all eastern sifakas, or the P. diadema group, including P. candidus, P. diadema, P. edwardsi, P. perrieri and P. tattersalli

Conservation status:

Life span: 27 years (P. edwardsi)
Total population: varies
Regions: Eastern and northeastern Madagascar
Gestation: 6 months
Height: 37.2 to 50.8 cm (M), 37.2 to 53.5 cm (F)
Weight: 3.04 to 6.5 kg (M), 3.1 to 6.7 kg (F)

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Suborder: Strepsirrhini
Infraorder: Lemuriformes
Superfamily: Lemuroidea
Family: Indriidae
Genus: Propithecus
Species: P. candidus, P. diadema, P. edwardsi, P. perrieri, P. tattersalli

Other names: P. candidus: P. diadema candidus; silky sifaka or silky simpona; propithèque soyeux (French); P. diadema: P. diadema diadema; diademed sifaka or diademed simpona; propithèque à diademè (French); diademsifaka (German); sadabe, simpona, or simpoon (Malagasy); indris sifaca or sifaka diademado (Spanish); diademedsifaka (Swedish); P. edwardsi: Milne-Edwards' sifaka or Milne-Edwards' simpona; propithèque de Milne-Edwards' (French); Edwards' diademsifaka (German); P. perrieri: Perrier's sifaka, black sifaka, Perrier's simpona; propithèque de Perrier (French); schwarzer sifaka (German); ankomba joby or radjako (Malagasy); P. tattersalli: golden-crowned sifaka or Tattersall's sifaka; propithèque de Tattersall (French); Tattersall-sifaka (German); ankomba malandy (Malagasy); guldkronad sifaka (Swedish)

The name sifaka is a reference to a common call given by western dry forest sifakas in which they give an explosive, hiss-like "shee-faak" call several times in succession. On the east coast, local residents refer to the larger bodied diademed sifakas as "simpona", a name which resembles their sneeze-like "Zzuss!" vocalizations (Wright 1998; Patel et al. 2006).

Propithecus diadema
Propithecus diadema
Photo: Tomas Junek

According to Groves (2001), there are seven species of sifaka in the genus Propithecus. While the taxonomy of sifakas is disputed and the number of species ranges from two to nine, they are commonly grouped according to size and geographic distribution. The Propithecus diadema group includes P. edwardsi, P. perrieri, P. tattersalli, P. diadema, and P. candidus. Members of the group are all diurnal large-bodied species that live in the eastern and northeastern rainforests of Madagascar (Mayor et al. 2004; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). The P. diadema group is also sometimes merely referred to as the eastern sifakas. The other group of sifakas includes P. verreauxi, P. coquereli, P. deckenii deckenii and P. deckenii coronatus and are referred to as the Propithecus verreauxi group. These sifakas are smaller than members of the P. diadema group and are found in the forests of western and southwestern Madagascar (Mittermeier et al. 2006a).


Generally speaking, all sifakas share a similar body shape with long tails and legs relative to their torso and arms. Their long, strong legs are used in the characteristic method of locomotion, clinging to vertical supports such as tree trunks and leaping between them. At rest, sifakas cling vertically to a support with their knees pulled tightly to their chest (Demes et al. 1996; Mittermeier et al. 2006a).

Propithecus edwardsi
Propithecus edwardsi
Photo: Tomas Junek

Species of the P. diadema group of sifakas can be differentiated from other members of the genus and from each other based on both size and coat coloration. They all have long, silky fur and tails which are shorter than their head and body together (Groves 2001). Diademed sifakas (P. diadema) are the largest species of the genus Propithecus and have long, silky fur that is grey on their back and shoulders. Their faces are dark grey to black and appear bare but are covered with very fine fur. They have reddish-brown eyes and their cheeks, forehead, and throat are covered in white fur. Their heads are mostly white, but black fur covers the top of their head to the nape of their neck while their back and shoulders are grey-silver. The legs and arms are a golden-orange hue but the hands are feet are black and the chest and stomach are white (Garbutt 1999; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Male and female P. diadema are similar in size, with males weighing an average of 6.50 kg (14.3 lb) and females having an average weight of 6.70 kg (14.8 lb). Males measure 50.1 cm (19.7 in) and females measure 50.9 cm (20.0 in), on average (Lehman et al. 2005).

The other subspecies, P. candidus, is covered in long, silky white fur with silvery shoulders or back and limbs. The face is mottled pink and grey-black, with individual variation. The ears are black and without fur and are noticeable as they protrude on the sides of the white head (Groves 2001; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Adult males and females are easily distinguished based on chest coloration; males have a large patch of brown fur on their chest, stained as a result of rubbing their chest scent gland on surfaces such as tree limbs (Mittermeier et al. 2006a). The average size of male silky sifakas is 5.03 kg (11.1 lb) and 50.8 cm (20.0 in) while females weigh 6.00 kg (13.2 lb) and measure 53.5 cm (21.1 in). This subspecies is critically endangered and average measurements are taken from an exceptionally small sample size of only four individuals (Lehman et al. 2005).

Milne-Edward's sifakas (P. edwardsi) have dark brown to black fur covering their bodies. They have bare, black faces and orange-red eyes. There is some individual variation in coloration around the flanks and lower back which can vary from light brown to cream (Groves 2001; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). This species is sturdily built, being smaller in size but around the same weight as other species. The average weight of males is 5.90 kg (13.0 lb) and for females it is 6.30 kg (13.9 lb). Males measure 47.6 cm (18.7 in) and females measure 47.7 cm (18.8 in) (Lehman et al. 2005).

Propithecus perrieri is distinguished from other members of the group by its dense black coat. The long fur covering their bodies is entirely black, but some individuals may have a lighter brown fur on their abdomen. They have naked faces and ears and orange-brown eyes and are of small build compared to other sifakas (Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Males weigh 4.22 kg (9.30 lb) and measure 47.4 cm (18.7 in), on average while females weigh 4.44 kg (9.79 lb) and measure 50.4 cm (19.8 in) (Lehman et al. 2005).

The golden-crowned sifaka (P. tattersalli) has short, cream-colored fur covering its dorsal surfaces excepting slightly darker fur on the chest. Its name comes from the golden fur on the top of its head and its arms and legs can also be a pale orange color. The face is black and mainly bare and the ears are prominent, with white tufts. It has orange eyes (Garbutt 1999; Groves 2001; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Data from captive golden-crowned sifakas show that males have an average weight of 3.04 kg (6.70 lb) while females weigh, on average, 3.10 kg (6.83 lb) (Kappeler 1990). The average height of golden-crowned sifakas, both male and female is 37.2 cm (14.6 in) (Mayor et al. 2004).


Propithecus candidus | Propithecus diadema | Propithecus edwardsi | Propithecus perrieri | Propithecus tattersalli

Sifakas are endemic to Madagascar and members of the P. diadema group are found in the eastern forests of the island from the far northern coast to the southeastern part of the country (Tattersall 1986). The northernmost occurring species, P. perrieri, is found in the dry forests from the coast to the northeastern edge of the Andrafiamena mountain chain between the Lokia River to the south and the Irodo River to the north in the Analamera Special Reserve (Tattersall 1982; Garbutt 1999; Lehman et al. 2005). Most of the remaining population of Perrier's sifaka is found at the Analamera Special Reserve (Mayor & Lehman 1999). Just south of the range occupied by P. perrieri and separated by the Andreva and Lokia Rivers and the Andrafiamena ridge, P. tattersalli inhabits a range a mere 25 km (15.5 mi) in diameter from the coast to the inland boundary (Groves 2001). At the center of the range, which is restricted by the Loky River in the north and west and the Manambato River in the south, is the town of Daraina (Garbutt 1999). Moving south along the coast about 125 km (77.7 mi), the next species encountered is P. candidus, from the Marojejy National Park on the Marojejy Massif in the north to the forests of Makira and the Antainambalana River in the south, including the Anjaharibe-Sud Special Reserve (Garbutt 1999; Kelley & Mayor 2002; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Small populations have also been documented throughout the Betaolana Corridor and north-west through the Tsaratanana Corridor until the Androranga River (Mittermeier et al. 2006a; Patel et al. 2007). There may be some overlap of the range of P. candidus and P. diadema as diademed sifakas are among the most widespread members of the genus Propithecus (Mittermeier et al. 2006a). It is found in the region of the Antainambalana River in the north southward to the Mangoro River (Garbutt 1999). The southernmost occurring member of the Propithecus diadema group is P. edwardsi. The northern part of its range is restricted by the Mangoro and Onive Rivers and it ranges south to Andringitra National Park and the Rienana River (Mittermeier et al. 2006a).

The total population estimate for the golden-crowned sifaka (P. tattersalli) is between 6100 and 10,000 animals in the wild and the captive population consists of two individuals housed at the Duke University Primate Center (Vargas et al. 2002; P. diadema probably numbers between 1000 and 10,000 individuals in the wild (Mittermeier et al. 1992). Estimates place P. edwardsi numbers at around 40,000 individuals in the wild (Irwin et al. 2005). P. candidus is perhaps the rarest of the sifakas with only several hundred to several thousand individuals. They are the only sifaka species that is listed as one of the World's Top 25 Most Endangered Primates (Mittermeier et al. 2006a; Patel et al. 2007). However, less available habitat remains for P. perrieri than for P. candidus. Wild P. perrieri estimates place their total population at around 915 individuals (Banks et al. 2007).


Propithecus perrieri
Propithecus perrieri
Photo: Matthew Banks

Propithecus perrieri are found in both dry and riparian forests bordering rivers. In the Analamera Special Reserve, which encompasses most of their range and the only area where they have been studied, the altitude varies from 10 to 600 m (32.8 to 1969 ft), but Perrier's sifakas are usually found at elevations below 500 m (1640 ft) (Lehman et al 2005). Rainfall is concentrated between November to April, and the annual precipitation is 125.0 cm (49.2 in) (Lehman et al. 2005).

The golden-crowned sifaka (P. tattersalli) is found in dry deciduous and gallery forests as well as in semi-evergreen forests at altitudes below 700 m (2297 ft) (Vargas et al. 2002). Annual rainfall within their range averages 200.0 cm (78.7 in), with the majority falling between December and March. The rest of the year is dry (Garbutt 1999).

Just south of the ranges of P. perrieri and P. tattersalli are the moist forests in which the silky sifaka (P. candidus) ranges. At Anjanaharibe-Sud and the Marojejy National Park where they have been studied, silky sifakas live in montane forests at elevations between 700 and 1875 m (4101 and 6152 ft) (Schmid & Smolker 1998; Sterling & McFadden 2000; Kelley & Mayor 2002). Recently, one group has been found inhabiting low elevations from 300 to 600m (984 to 1969 ft) within the Makira Conservation Site (ER Patel, pers. comm.). There are two distinct rainy seasons lasting from November to April and from June to August (Sterling & McFadden 2000). The diademed sifaka (P. diadema), is also found in moist rainforests but at slightly lower elevations than P. candidus. They are found in montane rainforests at altitudes ranging from 200 to 1600 m (656 to 5249 ft), but prefer elevations above 800 m (1312 ft) (Garbutt 1999; Mittermeier et al. 2006a). Long term research has been conducted at Tsinjoarivo where long-term research camps are now established and previously at Mantadia National Park (Powzyk & Mowry 2003; Irwin 2006a; 2007).

Milne-Edwards' sifaka (P. edwardsi) is found in primary and secondary rainforests between 600 and 1600 m (1969 and 5249 ft) (Mittermeier et al. 2006a). At Ranomafana National Park, where long-term research has been conducted, annual rainfall ranges between 230.0 and 430.0 cm (90.6 and 169.3 in) and is concentrated during the rainy season lasting from December to March. The months of lowest precipitation are between May and September, but they are not characterized as dry because they receive more than 10.0 cm (3.9 in) of rain per month (Hemingway 1998). Temperature is warmer during the rainy season, with highs between 36° and 40° C (96.8° and 104° F) and is lowest during the drier months of June through September, ranging from 4° to 12° C (39.2° to 53.6° F) (Wright 1998).


Propithecus tattersalli
Propithecus tattersalli
Photo: David Haring

The northern species of sifakas, P. perrieri and P. tattersalli live in dry forests compared with the southern species, P. candidus, P. diadema and P. edwardsi, which live in moist forests, but ecological patterns, when they have been studied, are similar (Lehman et al. 2005). Sifakas are primarily folivorous seed-predators, and while resource availability varies between forest-type and study site, similar types of foods are consumed by all species (Lehman & Mayor 2004; Irwin 2006b). All sifakas have gastrointestinal and dental specializations for folivory such as an enlarged cecum, long gastrointestinal tract, long gut passage time, and shearing crests on their molars. Although all sifakas rely primarily on foliage, particularly during the dry season, their diet is actually surprisingly diverse including substantial amounts of fruit, seeds, flowers, and (occasionally) dirt. Eastern sifakas are considered seed-predators since, unlike seed-dispersers, they chew the seeds they eat and their feces seldom contain plant parts (Richard 2003; Irwin 2006b). Perrier's sifakas consume leaves, flowers, fruit, buds, petioles, and seeds (Lehman & Mayor 2004). At Daraina, the site where P. tattersalli has been studied, food availability varies throughout the year based on seasonal patterns of rainfall, but the diet is mostly composed of leaves, both mature and immature, flowers, and fruit. During the rainy season, which lasts from December to March, the availability of ripe fruit, flowers, and immature leaves peaks (Meyers & Wright 1993). While ripe fruit is only seasonally available, golden crowned sifakas consume even unripe fruit year-round (Meyers & Wright 1993).

Adult silky sifakas spend most of their day resting (44.4%) and foraging (21.9%), while also devoting a substantial amount of time to social behavior (16.8%) (Kelly & Mayor 2002; Patel 2006a). The first silky sifaka dietary study was recently completed over three months at Marojejy National Park. The diet consisted of 76 species from 42 families. 52% of feeding time was spent consuming leaves, 34% fruit, and 11% seeds. Flowers and soil were occasionally consumed. These four most preferred foods accounted for 37% of total feeding time: fruit from Pachytrophe dimepate (16%), seeds from Senna sp. (8%), young leaves from Plectaneia thouarsii (7%), and fruit from Eugenia sp. (6%) (ER Patel pers. comm.). Similarly, P. diadema studied at Mantadia National Park have a diet consisting of young leaves (42.1%), fruits and seeds (39.2%), and flowers (15.5%). The rest of the feeding time is spent eating other items such as soil (Powzyk & Mowry 2003).

One of the best-studied of the genus Propithecus is Milne-Edwards' sifaka (P. edwardsi). They range in moist rainforests in the southeastern part of Madagascar and consume both mature and immature leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds as well as soil and subterranean fungus (Meyers & Wright 1993; Hemingway 1996; 1998). Starting at the end of the dry season and throughout the rainy season, new leaves and fruits are widespread but Milne-Edwards' sifakas consume these products on a consistent basis throughout the year, varying the plant species from which they come (Hemingway 1998).

It is likely that wild P. diadema uses olfaction in foraging for hidden resources. Individuals will smell large areas of leaves on the forest floor in order to locate hidden flowers of the subterranean parasitic plants Langsdorffia and Cytinous. In addition, this behavior may be learned from conspecifics by observing them (Irwin et al. 2007).

Propithecus candidus
Propithecus candidus
Photo: Erik Patel

One study found the home range size of Perrier's sifaka (P. perrieri), one of the most geographically restricted and least-studied members of the Genus Propithecus, to be around .01 km² (.004 mi²). This measurement is based on two groups which utilized neighboring but non-overlapping home ranges (Lehman & Mayor 2004). Another estimate of home range size from a previous study was .28 km² (.108 mi²) (Mayor & Lehman 1999). At Analamera Special Reserve there are between three and four Perrier's sifakas per square kilometer (1.86 to 2.49 per mi²) but in certain areas, such as near a water source, densities can range as high as 18 individuals per km² (11.2 per mi²) (Meyers & Ratsirarson 1989; Mayor & Lehman 1999). Golden-crowned sifakas (P. tattersalli) live in densities varying between 17 and 28 individuals per square kilometer (6.56 and 10.8 per mi²). Home range size in this species ranges from .09 to .12 km² (.035 to .046 mi²) (Vargas et al. 2002). Home range in P. candidus is .44 km² (.17 mi²) with day ranges averaging 712 m (2336 ft) for the species. Travel in P. candidus occurs for an average of just under one hour per day (Patel 2006a). Mean daily path for P. edwardsi averages 670 m (2198.2 ft) while that of P. tattersalli ranges between 461.7 to1077m (1514.8-3533.5 ft) (Wright 1987; Meyers 1993b). Finally, P. diadema daily path averages from 987 to 1629 m (3238.2 to 5344.5 ft) (Powzyk 1997; Irwin 2006a cited in Irwin 2006b).

Potential predators of sifakas include raptors, such as eagles and hawks, and the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), a weasel-like carnivore endemic to Madagascar (Meyers & Ratsirarson 1989; Wright 1998). The threat of bird predators on sifakas is probably small, as these raptors focus on capturing nocturnal primates during the day (while they are sleeping) and prey smaller than one kilogram (2.2 lb). Infant or juvenile sifakas are likely more impacted by avian predators than are adults. The more pertinent threat to sifakas is the fossa, and evidence of predation has been documented in P. tattersalli, P. perrieri, P. edwardsi, and P. candidus (Meyers & Ratsirarson 1989; Wright et al. 1997; Wright 1998; Mayor & Lehman 1999; Patel 2005). Sifakas exhibit anti-predator behavior that includes vigilance, alarm calling, resting in sheltered areas, and selection of sleeping sites (Wright 1998).

Sifakas are often sympatric with a number of other primate species. A superlative example of such a primate community is Ranomafana National Park in southeast Madagascar. In the park, Milne-Edwards' sifaka (P. edwardsi) lives in sympatry with the eastern avahi (Avahi laniger), greater dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus major), aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus), red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer), golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus), grey gentle lemur (Hapalemur griseus), small-toothed sportive lemur (Lepilemur microdon), brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus), greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), and black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) (Wright 1992).

Content last modified: February 4, 2008

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Erik Patel.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2008 February 4. Primate Factsheets: Diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2014 April 17.