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)
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).
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.
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).
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.
CURRENT RANGE MAPS (IUCN REDLIST):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
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; http://isis.org). 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).
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).
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).
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
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 . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/diademed_sifaka/taxon>. Accessed 2014 October 19.