Life span: >17 years (captive)
Total population: 100-160
Gestation: 149 days
Height: 39.1 and 45.0 cm (M)
Weight: 2.43 kg (M), 2.32 kg (F)
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
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 &
In captivity, greater bamboo lemurs have lived over 17 years of age (Weigl
CURRENT RANGE MAPS (IUCN REDLIST):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.
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).
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;
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
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 . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/greater_bamboo_lemur>. Accessed 2016 February 6.