Verreaux's Sifaka is a large long-tailed lemur with creamy white fur, a dark brown crown, and white tufted ears. Powerful hind limbs and large hands and feet allow sifakas to leap from tree trunk to tree trunk in a type of locomotion called vertical clinging and leaping.
Verreaux's sifakas are found in the western and southwestern regions of Madagascar.
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Primates of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Walker, E. 1968. Mammals of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Verreaux's sifakas have distinct coloration with white fur and a hint of yellow contrasting their hairless, black face. Their hands and feet are also black. They have a long tail that ranges from 43 to 56 cm in length, roughly the same length as their body (45 to 55 cm). Verreaux's sifakas are not sexually dimorphic, as both males and females weigh between 3 and 7 kg.
Range mass: 3 to 7 kg.
Range length: 45 to 55 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Average basal metabolic rate: 3.738 W.
Verreaux's sifakas are primarily arboreal and are found in deciduous and evergreen forests. However, they are widespread and can also be found in wet and dry habitats throughout southwest Madagascar.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
- Dewar, R., A. Richard. 2007. Evolution in the Hypervariable Environment of Madagascar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104/34: 13723-13727.
- Wade, D. 1996. Deforestation and Its Effects in Highland Madagascar. Mountain Research and Development, 16/2: 101-116.
Habitat and Ecology
This species is characterized by four distinct subspecies that occur in apparently isolated and distinct ranges in the southern and western parts of Madagascar. Verreaux's Sifakas prefer habitats with large trees in various forest types from dry, spiny deciduous woodlands to evergreen forests.
Verreaux's sifakas are herbivorous and feed primarily on leaves, bark, and flowers. When abundant, fruit may also be incorporated into their diet. Nutrition levels directly coincide with season and rainfall amounts, with food of higher nutritional value being most abundant during the wet season.
Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; fruit; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Lignivore)
Verreaux’s sifakas are an important prey item for fossas (Cyptoprocta ferox), stray dogs (Canis lupus familaris), and harrier hawks (Polyboroides radiatus). Also, they are strict herbivores and considered to be important seed dispersers.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Verreaux's sifakas commonly use alarm calls to warn group members of the presence of a predator. Different alarm calls are given for aerial (harrier hawk, Polyboroides radiatus) and terrestrial predators, which includes fossas (Cyptoprocta ferox) and stray dogs (Canis lupus familaris). Alarm calls are performed by males and females of all ranks in the social hierarchy and are thought to be most effective in group settings. As group size increases the number of individuals able to spot potential predators increases. As a result, group cohesion is an important aspect of deterring predators. It is also thought that large groups are able to intimidate potential predators more easily than small groups.
- fossas (Cyptoprocta ferox)
- harrier hawk (Polyboroides radiatus)
- domestic dogs (Canis lupus familaris)
Life History and Behavior
Verreaux's sifakas communicate over long distances via clear, deep barks. Barks sound similar to the word “sifaka” and are produced only when intruders are nearby. Barks are generally made by the group leader, and if group cohesion is ever threatened by an outsider, growling or barking is produced to ward off intruders.
Scent marking is an additional form of communication used by Verreaux's sifakas. It serves multiple purposes including marking territory, making one's presence known (specifically females in estrus), claiming food or territory, attracting mates, and may be used during non-physical competition. Scent marking is a versatile and important way of communicating in Verreaux's sifakas.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
- Palagi, E., D. Antonacci, I. Norscia. 2008. Peacemaking on Treetops: First Evidence of Reconciliation from a Wild Prosimian (Propithecus verreauxi). Animal Behaviour, 76/3: 737-747.
- Trillmich, J., C. Fichtel, P. Kappeler. 2004. Coordination in Group Movements in Wild Verreaux's Sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi). Behaviour, 141/9: 1103-1120.
This species is primarily a frugivore or fruit eater, but its diet changes with the seasons. In the rainy season, Verreaux’s Sifakas eat more fruits and flowers, whereas in the dry season they consume mainly dead wood, bark, and leaves – a habit which may help them absorb more water.
Verreaux's sifaka is a social species living in groups of 3-13 members. These groups are mixed and females appear to be dominant over males. Breeding females give birth to a single black, hairless offspring which clings to its mother's belly for 3 to 4 weeks, before moving to her back.
Little is known about the lifespan of Verreaux's sifakas in the wild, as the residents of Madagascar rarely come into contact with them. Studies have found that they have a surprisingly low parasitic load, which may result in increased lifespan relative to other closely related primates. The average lifespan of captive Verreaux's sifakas is 18 years with a recorded maximum of 23.5 years.
Status: captivity: 23.5 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 18 years.
Status: captivity: 18 years.
Status: captivity: 20.6 years.
Status: captivity: 18.2 years.
Status: captivity: 18.0 years.
Status: captivity: 18.2 years.
- Muehlenbein, M., M. Schwartz, A. Richard. 2003. Parasitologic Analyses of the Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) at Beza Mahafaly, Madagascar. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 34/3: 274-277.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Verreaux's sifakas form social hierarchies, which are subject to change during the mating season as females only breed with dominant males. Subordinate males challenge dominant males, often resulting in intense competition and fighting.
Verreaux's sifakas scent mark as a form of communication. Females scent mark to get the attention of males. Subordinate males scent mark to get the attention of females, and dominant males scent-mark to claim territory. Scent-marking often results in conflict among males.
Mating System: polygynous
Verreaux's sifakas breed from late January through March. Following implantation, gestation lasts 130 to 141 days. Typically, mothers give birth to only one offspring per year, which occurs between June and September. Average birth weight is 40 g. Mothers carry young close to their abdomen and chest for the first 2 to 3 months of the offspring's life. At about 3 months old, young move to their mothers back until they reach 5 to 6 months of age and are weaned at about six months. Young sifakas reach adult size at 21 months and are sexually mature by two and a half years old.
Breeding interval: Once a year
Breeding season: January to March
Average number of offspring: 1.
Range gestation period: 4 to 5 months.
Average weaning age: 180 days.
Average time to independence: 2.5 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2.5 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2.5 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 72.25 g.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 912 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 912 days.
Verreaux's sifakas live in social groups and young are cared for by adults. A mother's position in the social hierarchy affects the social status of her young and parental care continues until young reach full size at about 21 months. Females stay with the group, while males either stay with the group or leave to form their own. Mothers carry newborn sifakas near their chest and abdomen for the first 2 to 3 months after birth and then on her back until offspring reach about 6 months of age.
Parental Investment: male parental care ; female parental care ; post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning; maternal position in the dominance hierarchy affects status of young
- Lewis, R. 2005. Sex Differences in Scent-Marking in Sifaka: Mating Conflict or Male Services?. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 128/2: 389-398.
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Primates of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Verreaux's sifakas are rapidly losing their natural habitat. Due to slash-and-burn agriculture, the deciduous forests of Madagascar are severely threatened. Additionally, Malagasy forests have been subjected to commercial logging, overgrazing by livestock, and charcoal manufacturing. Fortunately, captive breeding has been successful in Verreaux's sifakas, which, according to the IUCN Red List, are considered "vulnerable".
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix i
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
- Loudon, J., M. Sauther, K. Fish, M. Hunter-Ishikawa, Y. Ibrahim. 2006. One Reserve, Three Primates: Applying a Holistic Approach to Understand the Interconnections Among Ring-Tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta), Verreaux's Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi), and Humans (Homo sapiens) at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, 2/2: 54-74.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Listed as Endangered as the species is suspected to have undergone a population reduction of ≥50% over the past 52.5 years (three generations, assuming a generation length of 17.5 years) due primarily to observed and inferred continuing decline in area, extent and quality of habitat caused by the logging of spiny forest and riparian or gallery forest; slash-and-burn agriculture (especially for corn plantations) and charcoal and fuel wood production; deliberate and accidental fires due to deliberate burning to create savannah for feeding cattle; and exploitation through unsustainable levels of hunting. These causes have not ceased, and will to a large extent not be easily reversible. A future population reduction of ≥50% over a 52.5-year period is also suspected due to the same causes. Assuming population reductions to continue, this species may need up-listing to Critically Endangered in the near future.
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
IUCN Red List Status: VULNERABLE
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of Verreaux's sifakas on humans.
Verreaux’s sifakas are the most extensively studied of the Malagasy prosimians and have been the subject of a wide range of research topics. These topics include, but are not limited to bipedalism in mammals, the evolution of social hierarchies, the causes and consequences of female dominance in mammals, the evolution and ecological consequences of male dimorphism, the causes and consequences of decreased parasitic loads, and the evolution of characteristics that are necessary for living in the variable environments of Madagascar. Verreaux's sifakas are also an important component of the unique Madagascar ecosystem, which attracts tourists from around the globe.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism ; research and education
- Lewis, R., P. Kappeler. 2005. Seasonality, Body Condition, and Timing of Reproduction in Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi in the Kirindy Forest. American Journal of Primatology, 67/3: 347-364.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2012)|
Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi), or the white sifaka, is a medium sized primate in one of the lemur families, Indriidae. It lives in Madagascar and can be found in a variety of habitats from rainforest to western Madagascar dry deciduous forests and dry and spiny forests. The fur is thick and silky and generally white with brown on the sides, top of the head, and on the arms. Like all sifakas, it has a long tail that it uses as a balance when leaping from tree to tree. However, its body is so highly adapted to an arboreal existence that on the ground its only means of locomotion is hopping. The species lives in small troops which forage for food.
There are four sub-species of this kind of lemur. There are many things unknown about Verreaux's sifaka, so their life span in the wild has not been approximated, but in captivity they generally live to up to 18 years old.
In adulthood the full head and body length is between 42 and 45 cm (17 and 18 in). The tail of a fully grown Verreaux's sifaka grows to be between 56 and 60 cm (22 and 24 in) long. In terms of weight, adult females reach 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) on average, and adult males 3.6 kg (7.9 lb).
Verreaux's sifaka has a relatively low, flat braincase. The face is broader than that of most other Indriids, but its snout is reduced. This species of sifaka is also distinguished by its unique dentition. Its dental formula is 22.214.171.124. The upper incisors are very small and are slightly angled inward towards the gap between I1 and I2. In the mandible, Verreaux's sifaka displays the stresirhine characteristic: the toothcomb. Formed by the procumbent lower incisor and canine, the toothcomb projects past the front margin of the mouth. P. verreauxi also presents the high, shearing molar crests of a folivore, helping to shread the leaves, fruit, and flowers that it eats. Postcranially, Verreaux's Sifaka has a low intermembral index that ranges from 63-66. It has a broader ribcage than most other prosimians and has many lumbar vertebrae lending it a lot of flexibility. The pelvic is high and narrow and the acetabulum is relatively shallow, also allowing for greater flexibility. Like other Indriids, P. verreauxi has a short calcaneus, pointed nails, and slightly webbed hands and feet.
Verreaux's sifaka forage for food in the troop it lives in, primarily in the morning and late afternoon, so they can rest during the hottest part of the day. They are herbivores; leaves, fruit, bark and flowers are typical components of the diet. However, they are mostly folivorous (leaves represent the majority of the diet over the year, especially in the dry season) and they seem to choose food items based on quality (lower tannin content) rather than on availability.
Verreaux's sifaka are diurnal and arboreal, and engage in sunbathing with outstretched arms and legs. Verreaux's sifaka move through the trees by clinging and leaping between vertical supports. They are capable of making remarkable leaps through the trees - distances of 9-10m are not uncommon. On the ground, they hop bipedally. They live in family groups, or troops, of 2-12, which may consist of one male and female, or many males and females together. Group and population sex ratio can be more or less skewed toward males. Many groups seem to be effectively harem groups with a single dominant male unrelated with resident female(s). They have a home range of 2.8.5ha, and although they are territorial, it is the food source they will defend rather than the territory's boundaries, as often boundaries overlap. Females are dominant over males, forming a matriarchal society.
Females use anogenital secretion mainly for territory demarcation whereas males seem to use specialized secretions (via anogenital and throat glands) more for sexual "advertisement" than for territorial purposes. Males show bimorphism, by showing either a clean or stained chest, derived from throat gland secretions and smeared on surfaces by rubbing the upper part of the chest. Stain-chested males engage in the most active marking, and chest staining seems to be related to testosterone levels.
Males and females were found to engage in a biological market, exchanging grooming for grooming during the non-mating period, and grooming ("offered" by males) for reproductive opportunities (sexual access "offered" by females) during the mating period. A study found that females copulate more with stained-chested than with clean-chested males. On the other hand, clean-chested males, with a lower scent-releasing potential, usually offer more grooming to females. This “grooming for sex” tactic allows males with a clean chest to get to copulate with females, even if at low rate.
It has also been discovered that sifaka dyads often engage in post-conflict reunions after aggressive episodes: reconciliation occurs more frequently when food is not involved and for low intensity aggressions. In this species play behavior persists into adulthood where it is used, especially by stranger males during the mating period, as an ice-breaking mechanism to reduce xenophobia 
Females give birth to one infant after a gestation period of 130 days, between June and August. For the first 6–8 weeks, the infant clings to the mother's stomach, but for the following 19 weeks, it clings to her back.
Ecology and Conservation status
Currently this species is considered to be Endangered by the IUCN. In the small spiny forest fragments of South Madagascar, sifaka abundance appears to be influenced by the proportion of large trees (diameter at breast height >=5 cm) and by the abundance of the plant species Allouadia procera, a key species of the spiny forest habitat. A long-term, large-scale demographic study of the species at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve in southwest Madagascar found that the sifaka population there had a population growth rate of 0.98 (with confidence intervals spanning 1), suggesting that the population was not in danger of imminent extinction. However, both severe droughts and an increased annual variation in rainfall levels can depress the population growth rate.
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