Black lemur (Eulemur macaco)

Male black lemur
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Black lemur fact file

Black lemur description

GenusEulemur (1)

There are two subspecies of the black lemur, the black lemur Eulemur macaco macaco and the Sclater’s or blue eyed lemur E. m. flavifrons. These subspecies are similar in size, shape and behaviour, though they differ in their coat and eye colour and their habitat preferences (2). In both subspecies the sexes look quite different from each other. Male black lemurs have a dark brown to black pelage with black tufted ears and beady yellow-orange eyes, while females look so different they were thought for a long time to be a different species (4). Black lemur females are tawny on the back and head; their underparts are golden-brown to rich-chestnut brown, with paler fur on the limbs, and the tail is a darker chestnut brown (2). The females’ ears are also dramatically tufted, but with long white hair which extends around the cheeks (3).

Male Sclater’s lemursnormally have a completely black pelage, which is shorter in length and has a softer appearance than that of the black lemur. The forehead has a distinct ridge of hair that forms a distinctive crest, and the ears are not tufted (2). As the alternative name of the Sclater’s lemur, the blue-eyed black lemur, suggests, this subspecies has blue eyes, which is highly unusual in primates and very striking (2). Females of this subspecies have paler brown coloured underparts and dark grey hands and feet. Their crown is reddish-tan in colour and they have short white beards which may have reddish tinges (2).

Total length: 90 cm - 110 cm (2)
Head-body length: 39 - 45 cm (2)
Tail length: 51 - 65 cm (2)
2 – 2.5 kg (2)

Black lemur biology

Black lemurs live in groups of between 2-15 individuals, with adult males and females in equal numbers, together with their dependant offspring (5). The activities and movements of the group are dictated by the dominant female, and group relationships are maintained by grunts, contact calls and grooming. Home ranges extend for five to six hectares and there is considerable overlap with the ranges of neighbouring groups (2).

This species, like other lemurs, exhibits an activity pattern that is virtually unique amongst primates and rarely encountered amongst other arboreal mammals. They have activity bursts which may occur during the day and the night, though most activity occurs in the early morning and late afternoon (5). This activity pattern is called cathemeral, meaning ‘all hours’, contrasting with the usual distinction between nocturnal and diurnal (9). Foraging is concentrated in the middle and upper parts of the canopy, where this lemur feeds on fruit, flowers, leaves, fungi and occasionally invertebrates like millipedes. This primate plays an extremely important role is seed dispersal through the forests because it has such a high amount of fruit in its diet (6). In the dry season nectar becomes an important part of its diet as well (2). During the day it forages in the understory of the canopy where it is more protected from predatory birds such as hawks, and at night is able to feed in the upper levels (2).

The breeding season is seasonal and births occur after a gestation period of 12 - 129 days. One offspring is usual, though twins are fairly common. The young cling to their mother’s belly for three weeks and will only move to suckle. After three weeks the young are heavier and ride on the mother’s back, and at 5 - 6 months of age they are fully weaned (5).


Black lemur range

Like all lemurs, these two subspecies are endemic to Madagascar, a large island off the coast off east Africa. They occur in the forests of the Sambirano region on the north-western tip of the island as well as on the islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba. These subspecies are separated by the Andranomalaza River, though clear separation occurs only in a small area. The black lemur occurs to the north of the river, and Sclater’s lemur to the south (4).


Black lemur habitat

The habitats of these two subspecies differ. The black lemuroccurs in moist Sambirano forests, rainforests on offshore islands, and in modified habitats of timber, coffee and cashew nut plantations, while Sclater’s lemur occurs in mixed moist forests, dry deciduous forests and plantations (2).


Black lemur status

The black lemur is classified as Vulnerable (VU A1cd) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I on CITES (8).

Two subspecies of the black lemur are recognised. The black lemur Eulemur macaco macaco is classified as Vulnerable (VU B1+2bc), and Sclater’s lemur (or blue-eyed black lemur) E. m. flavifrons is classified as Critically Endangered (CR A1cd, B1+2bc) on the IUCN Red List (1) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Black lemur threats

This species is threatened by habitat destruction, hunting for meat or fur, and by trapping for the pet trade (2).


Black lemur conservation

The back lemur occurs in three protected areas in Madagascar but its range is limited and its distribution patchy (2). Sclater’s lemurpopulations are even lower as this subspecies seems less adaptable to the disturbed forest (2). A national park has been proposed within this lemur’s range, and it is hoped that this will allow this species to recover (2). However, the threats facing Madagascar’s forests are so great it seems unlikely the black lemur will recover without intervention. Captive breeding projects in association with the Species Survival Plan are now being co-ordinated by the St. Louis Zoological Park in the United States. Fortunately lemurs breed well in captivity and it is hoped that reintroducing these lemurs may be successful and boost wild populations in the near future (7).

To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the conservation of this species and other lemurs see the Lemur Conservation Project:

For more information on conservation in Madagascar see the Madagascar Fauna Group:



Authenticated by Alison Jolly, Sussex University (26/02/05).



Living in trees.
A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
Active during the day.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Active at night.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2005)
  2. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, East Sussex.
  3. CITES (February, 2005)
  4. Mittermeier, W., Konstant, R., Nicoll, M.E. and Langrand, O. (1992) Lemurs of Madagascar: An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  5. Animal Diversity (January, 2004)$narrative.html
  6. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  7. Jolly, A. (2005) Pers. comm.
  8. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Species Survival Plan for the black lemur, Eulemur macaco (January, 2004)

Image credit

Male black lemur  
Male black lemur

© Pete Oxford /

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