Madagascar Part 5 – The Lemurs, Chameleons, etc.


The trip to Madagascar offered an opportunity to see lemurs, found nowhere else in the world.  There are 3 orders of mammals found only on Madagascar: lemurs, tenrecs and Malagasy carnivores.  We saw a Tenrec, as earlier reported, but none of the Malagasy carnivores.  As for Lemurs, the Island lived up to its reputation.  From the Behrens and Barnes invaluable guide, “Wildlife of Madagascar”:

“Lemurs: A massive radiation of primates that is endemic to the island.  There are five living families, plus a further three that have become extinct.” “Lemurs are Madagascar’s most celebrated biological treasure. Fifteen percent of the world’s primate species and subspecies, 20% of its primate genera and one-third of its primate families, are endemic to the island.  Lemurs form one of the most prominent voices in the Malagasy forest.  Most species are vocal and produce many different calls.”   

The five different families of lemurs are Mouse, Sportive, True, Indri and Aye-aye.

Mouse Lemurs (Cheirogaleidae Family).  18 species, 9 to 12 inches long.  Behrens and Barnes: “These tiny nocturnal lemurs include the smallest living primate in the world: Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur. . . . They closely resemble the galagos, or “bushbabies” of Africa.  Modern taxonomy has seen the number of recognized species increase dramatically from two to 18, and more species may yet be described. Although mouse lemurs are occasionally found sleeping during the day (resembling tiny fur balls), most sightings are during the night, usually in the form of a pair of eyes bounding about the forest at remarkable speed. There is some variation in size and colour (from gray to rufous), but all mouse lemurs look very similar, especially with a typical night walk view.  According to current information, most can be identified simply by where you are, so refer to the locality and species table on this page.”

 Grey-brown Mouse Lemur

Dwarf Lemurs (also in the Cheirogaleidae, or Mouse, family).  7 species, 16 to 22 inches long.  Behrens and Barnes: “Dwarf lemurs are small nocturnal lemurs in the same family as mouse lemurs.  They are remarkable as the only primates known to go into a hibernation-like torpor during the dry season (approximately May to December), during which they live off the reserves of fat stored in their tails. . . . There seems to be little overlap in range of most species so tentative identifications can be based on the location of a sighting.  Refer to the locality and species table on this page.”

Based on my prior understanding that finding any mouse lemurs (including dwarf lemurs) would be difficult, I was hoping we would see at least one species from this big family of small, nocturnal lemurs.  We found 3:  Grey-brown Mouse Lemurs at Ifaty, and Goodman’s Mouse Lemurs and Crossley’s Dwarf Lemur at Andasibe.

2.  Sportive Lemurs (Lepilemuridae).  26 species, 17 to 25 inches long.  From Behrens and Barnes: “Sportive lemurs are classified as an entirely separate family.  They are rather chunky, with big eyes and ears, and have a vertical posture.  These nocturnal lemurs are often seen during the day, roosting in tree cavities or dense tangles.  At night, they move about with impressive leaps while retaining their vertical posture.  This is another group, like the mouse lemurs, where the number of recognized species (currently 26) has increased dramatically in recent years, and new species may yet be described.  These species look very similar, especially at night, but show some variation in size, color, prominence of the ears, and other traits.  However, it is unusual for two species to coexist, and so most can be identified by location  (see table below).”

As with the Mouse Lemurs, I thought we would need luck to see any Sportive Lemurs.  But, we saw 2 species:  Petter’s Sportive Lemur (White Footed?) at Ifaty, and Zombitse Sportive Lemur at Zombitse

3. “True Lemurs” (Lemuridae).  This family includes several larger lemurs, generally thought of as separate groups, (a “genus”) including Bamboo Lemurs, Ring-tailed Lemurs, Brown Lemurs and Ruffed Lemurs. Most True Lemurs are active in daylight, unlike the Mouse or Sportive Lemurs.  Except for the Ring-tailed Lemurs which we saw at Isalo, all of our sightings of this family were in the Andasibe area.

A.  Bamboo Lemurs.  Bamboo lemurs are active during the day.  They can be up to almost 3 feet long, tip of tail to tip of nose.  We found Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemurs at Andasibe.B

Another species of Bamboo Lemur, the Golden Bamboo Lemur, is critically endangered.  It exists only in Ranomafana National Park, which itself exists in large part because of the discovery of this species there in 1985.  We chose not to visit Ranomafana due to its remoteness, difficult topography and our time constraints for the trip.  

B. Ring-tailed Lemurs.  We included Isalo in our itinerary primarily because Ring-tailed Lemurs can often be seen there.  The 3 to 3.5 foot long Ring-tail is probably the most distinctive and well-known lemur in Madagascar, although the Indri, discussed later, certainly gives it a run for the money.  We were fortunate to find a very active group near the campground at Isalo.  Their expressive faces, athleticism and long tails make for a good show.     

C.  Brown Lemurs. From Behrens and Barnes: “Brown lemurs are a large genus (Eulemur) within the ‘true lemur’ family, and include some of the lemur species most frequently seen by visitors.  There are 12 species . . . . Brown lemurs are medium-sized [3 feet long], vocal, and generally found in groups.  They are generally diurnal.”  We saw them at Andasibe.I

D.  Ruffed Lemurs.  We saw just one Black and White Ruffed Lemur at Mantadia National Park, north of Andasibe, toward the end of our trip.  It is generally found high in the trees, and that was the case for us.  It appeared to be eating the flowers.  

4.  The Indriidae Family.  Like the True Lemurs, this family is normally active in daylight hours.  The Family includes Wooly lemurs, Sifakas (both Verreaux’s and Diademed), and the wonderful (and, if from a distance, haunting) voice of the forest, the Indris. All of them are large, colorful, athletic and charismatic. They gave us many hours of pleasure, and a few shocks as one or more Indri would suddenly emit from overhead an incredibly loud and surprising scream.  

Our first encounter with any of Indri family was with the Verreaux’s Sifakas in the southwest.I

At Andasibe, we were treated to several sightings of Wooly Lemurs,

And Diademed Sifakas,

The stars of the Lemur Show at Andasibe were undoubtedly the Indri. They were vocal and loud, beautiful and impressive with their leaps through the trees.  They could be heard every morning from our hotel.  The locals call them the Voice of the Forest.  Truly, never to be forgotten voices, deafening at close range, haunting from a distance.  

5.  The Aye-aye.  As for the 5th Lemur family, the monotypic Aye-aye, we did not expect to see any because it is rare and restricted to areas we did not visit.  Nevertheless, to complete the Lemur discussion, we quote a summary from Behrens and Barnes: “This remarkable creature is one of the world’s most bizarre animals.  Its strangest features are its perpetually growing incisor teeth and its thin, elongated middle fingers, which are used to extract larvae from dead wood.  Although it was sometimes considered to be a rodent in the past, recent genetic studies have placed it firmly in the lemurs.  It forms its own family (one of Madagascar’s five lemur families).”

We were able to identify 13 species of Lemur, at least one species within each of the 4 Lemur Families that were possible to find in the areas we explored.  The most surprising sightings were of the 3 normally nocturnal Mouse Lemur species and the 2 Sportive Lemur species, better than the previously hoped for 1 of each family. 


This Oustalet’s Chameleon showed up outside our hotel on our first morning in Tana.

The Andasibe area added several Chameleons to our collection.

Short-horned Chameleon

Big Nose Chameleon

And the near threatened Parson’s (Giant) Chameleon.


We saw 7 species of Gecko.  One of the prettiest is this Lined Day Gecko

Gold-spotted Skink

Three-eyed Lizard

Spider Tortoise

Frogs were small but colorful.  Here are several:

Marbled Rain Frog

Baron’s Mantella (Painted Frog)


Notable at Andasibe were the large numbers of various species of Butterflies.

Green Ladies in with hundreds of white butterflies

Cream-lined Swallowtail

And these denizens of the insect (or spider) worlds:

Kung Fu Cricket (seen at Ifaty)

Grant’s Millipede

And the weirdest of all, this Giraffe-necked Weevil