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Greater bamboo lemur
Prolemur simus

Conservation status:
Critically endangered

Life span: >17 years (captive)
Total population: 100-160
Regions: Madagascar
Gestation: 149 days
Height: 39.1 and 45.0 cm (M)
Weight: 2.43 kg (M), 2.32 kg (F)

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Suborder: Strepsirrhini
Infraorder: Lemuriformes
Superfamily: Lemuroidea
Family: Lemuridae
Genus: Prolemur
Species: P. simus

Other names: Hapalemur simus, H. gallieni, greater bamboo lemur, broad-nosed gentle lemur, broad-nosed bamboo lemur; grand hapalémur, hapalémur simien (French); grosser halbmaki (German); varibolo, tan-tang, bokombolobe, halogodro, varikovoka (Malagasy); lemur cariancho (Spanish); brednäst bambulemur, brednäst halvmaki, brednäst lemur (Swedish).

The genus Prolemur is monotypic, containing only the greater bamboo lemur, Prolemur simus (Mittermeier et al. 2006). Many authors place the greater bamboo lemur under the genus Hapalemur, but based on multiple lines of evidence (including morphological and genetic differences), Groves (2001; 2005) placed the species under its own genus, Prolemur (see Mittermeier et al. 2006 and Konstant et al. 2005 for a further discussion). For related species see the Hapalemur factsheet.


P. simus
Photo: Cedric Girard-Buttoz

As its name implies, the greater bamboo lemur is the largest of the bamboo lemurs and is significantly larger than its counterparts in the genus Hapalemur. Greater bamboo lemurs have a short and broad muzzle, similar to the other bamboo lemurs (Groves 2001). The back and tail is a slightly reddish gray-brown with olive-brown head, neck, shoulders and arms. The ventrum is cream-brown with a rust-brown pygal patch (Mutschler & Tan 2003; Mittermeier et al. 2006). The species has obvious and pronounced characteristic whitish or gray ear-tufts and the face is predominantly dark gray in color (Garbutt 1999). There may be local variation in the pelage coloration as what were probably Prolemur simus were reported on the Andringitra Massif with largely reddish coloration and no ear tufts (Garbutt 1999). They have very large scent glands above their elbows (Groves 2001). Greater bamboo lemur females have four nipples (Ankel-Simons 2007).

Recorded weights of two wild greater bamboo lemur males are 2.37 kg and 2.49 kg (5.2 and 5.5 lb) (Meier et al. 1987; Ankel-Simons 2007). A single wild female weighed 2.45 kg (5.4 lb) (Ankel-Simons 2007). Recorded head and body lengths of two adult males were 39.1 and 45.0 cm (15.4 and 17.7 in) respectively (Meier et al. 1987; Ankel-Simons 2007). In a recently discovered population near Torotorofotsy, some 400 km (248.5 mi) north of all other known populations of P. simus, adult females averaged 2.32 kg (5.1 lb) while adult males averaged 2.43 kg (5.4 lb) (Dolch et al. 2008). The tail is roughly around the same length as the rest of the body (Meier et al. 1987; Ankel-Simons 2007). Sexual dimorphism by weight is not seen in this species (Tan 2000 cited in Mittermeier et al. 2006).

Greater bamboo lemurs move through a combination of quadrupedal movement along horizontal supports and leaping between vertical supports (Andriaholinirina et al. 2003). Greater bamboo lemurs are sometimes seen on the ground; around 9% of movement is terrestrial (Tan 2000 cited in Mutschler & Tan 2003).

In captivity, greater bamboo lemurs have lived over 17 years of age (Weigl 2005).


Prolemur simus

As with all lemurs, the greater bamboo lemur is only found on Madagascar. As evidenced by subfossil and historical collection localities of the species, the greater bamboo lemur used to be widespread across the island (see Godfrey & Vuillaume-Randriamanantena 1986; Godfrey et al. 2004). Today, the distribution is quite limited, with P. simus found mostly in the south-central eastern parts of Madagascar (Mutschler & Tan 2003). Most known populations are from this region, particularly in the Ranomafana and Andringitra National Parks (review in Tan 2006; review in Wright et al. 2009). It is also known from several degraded forests also in southeast Madagascar including in the corridor between the two national parks (Mittermeier et al. 2006; review in Wright et al. 2009). The species is only confirmed at 12 localities in all and the distribution is considered to be highly patchy (Wright et al. 2008; 2009). However, the extant range of the species has recently been significantly expanded with the discovery of populations of greater bamboo lemurs near Torotorofotsy in eastern Madagascar, over 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) north of all of the other populations (Dolch et al. 2008). This newly discovered population is actually one of the largest known (Wright et al. 2009).

It is estimated that there are between 100 and 160 greater bamboo lemurs remaining in the wild and there are around 20 individuals in captivity (Wright et al. 2008; 2009). P. simus are one of the World's 25 Most Endangered Primates, and may have the lowest surviving numbers of any lemur species (Wright et al. 2008; 2009).


Greater bamboo lemurs are found in primary and degraded eastern humid forests of Madagascar, and are usually found in areas with large woody bamboo species (Mutschler & Tan 2003; Tan 2006; Wright et al. 2009). Occasionally they are found in degraded habitats without bamboo (Tan 2006). The range of forests in which they occur ranges from large protected areas down to small forest fragments (Wright et al. 2008). The newly discovered population at Torotorofotsy inhabit marshland, a new habitat type for the species (Wright et al. 2008). Some researchers propose that P. simus cannot live in habitats that do not have giant bamboo (Cathariostachys madagascariensis) (Arrigo-Nelson & Wright 2004). P. simus has been sighted at elevations ranging from 121 m to 1600 m (397.0 to 5249.3 ft) (Wright et al. 2008).

At one study site 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 1998).


P. simus
Photo: Cedric Girard-Buttoz

Most of what is known about the behavioral ecology of wild greater bamboo lemurs comes from a single study site at Ranomafana National Park, southeast Madagascar. At this study site, greater bamboo lemurs eat only seven species of plant although in an individual month they may only eat four species or as few as a single one. On a yearly basis, the diet is giant bamboo (Cathariostachys madagascariensis) (95% of the diet), other bamboos and grasses (3%), fruit (0.5%) and other foods (1.5%) (Tan 1999). Both young and old leaves are consumed (Tan 1999; Mutschler & Tan 2003). Diet changes seasonally in terms of the parts of foods eaten, transitioning from a mostly shoot diet to a mostly pith diet (Tan 1999). In the rainy season shoots become 98% of the diet and by the dry season, pith provides 89% of the diet (Tan 1999). At Ranomafana, greater bamboo lemurs will make their way to streams to obtain drinking water (Wright et al. 2008).

P. simus eats the very tough outer stalk (pith) of giant bamboo by puncturing it then peeling off pieces. Through specialized and characteristic feeding behaviors, it is able to access this food while other bamboo lemurs are unable to do so. First, the animal works at the stalk with a tooth until a hole is made. Next, the stalk is held in the mouth and peeled down to the bamboo node, where it is ripped off. Finally, it is held in the lemur's hand where the inner parts of the stalk are consumed (Yamashita et al. 2009).

In a degraded habitat east of Ranomafana National Park, greater bamboo lemurs ate other foods in addition to bamboo, including flowers, fruits, palms, ginger leaves, grass, and they crop raided rice agriculture (Meier & Rumpler 1987; Tan 2006).

At Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar, a single group of greater bamboo lemurs had a home range of 0.62 km² (0.24 mi²) (Tan 1999). At Ambolomavo, another group had a home range of 0.40 km² (0.15 mi²) (Andriaholinirina et al. 2003). Further north, at Torotorofotsy, another group had a range of 0.972 km² (0.38 mi²) (Dolch et al. 2008). Of the territory, specific core areas are used preferentially over others (Tan 2000 cited in Tan 2006).

P. simus are cathemeral, but spend the daylight hours resting (50% of the day), feeding (41%), and traveling (6%) (Tan 2000 cited in Tan 2006).

Greater bamboo lemurs are often found in sympatry with other species of primates. For example, at Ranomafana National Park, P. simus is sympatric with brown mouse lemurs (Microcebus rufus), greater dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus major), sportive lemurs (Lepilemur sp.), eastern avahis (Avahi laniger), aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis), golden bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur aureus), gray bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur griseus), red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufus), red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer), and Milne-Edwards' sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) (Tan 1999).

Content last modified: July 22, 2010

Written by Kurt Gron.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2010 July 22. Primate Factsheets: Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2020 April 4.