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Collared Lemur (Eulemur collaris) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

  • Cathemeral (from Donati et al. 2007a unless otherwise noted)
    • Active day and night year-round
    • Activity patterns vary seasonally
      • Feeding in daylight increases during the hot-wet season (December-February)
      • Nocturnal feeding is highest during the hot-dry season (March-May)
      • Photoperiod (day length) largely influences activity (Donati and Borgognini-Tarli 2006)
        • Nocturnal illumination also has a strong impact on activity (Donati and Borgognini-Tarli 2006)
  • Daily activity patterns
    • Daily rhythm (from Donati and Borgognini-Tarli 2006)
      • Active in morning and evening twilight
        • Early morning activity peak c. 05:00-06:00
        • Evening activity peak c. 18:00-19:00
      • Least active near mid-day (11:00-13:00)
    • Time budget (from Donati et al. 2011a unless otherwise noted)
      • Rest in trees most of the time
        • Remain largely inactive for c. 61% of the time
        • Small groups tend to spend more time at rest than larger groups
        • Resting postures
          • Hunch; the animal curled into a “ball” (Donati et al. 2011b)
            • The tail may or may not be wrapped around the body
          • Sit upright (Donati et al. 2011b)
          • Lie on the stomach; the limbs and tail hanging on either side of the branch (Donati et al. 2011b)
          • Lie on the back; the limbs and tail hanging on either side of the branch (Donati et al. 2011b)
      • Feed and move about c. 28 % of the time
        • Time spent in each activity roughly equal
        • Move between several trees to feed each day
    • Daily travel distance (from Campera et al. 2014)
      • Mean travel c. 0.82-1.04 km/day (0.51-0.65 mi/day), one study (Campera et al. 2014)
      • Degree of habitat degradation impacts travel

Home Range

  • Utilize core area(s) within a larger range (Campera et al. 2014)
  • Home range size
    • Annual home range size variable
      • 20.69-112.54 ha (0.08-0.43 mi2)
      • Groups living in more degraded forest fragments tend to use larger ranges

Social Groups

  • Social system
    • Live in multi-male, multi-female groups (Campera et al. 2014; Donati 2002)
      • No apparent dominance hierarchy (Donati et al. 2011a)
  • Group size
    • Range: 2-17 individuals (Donati 2002; Donati et al. 2011a)
      • Smaller groups are commonly present in more degraded habitats (Donati et al. 2011a)

Territorial Behavior

  • Generally not territorial (G Donati personal communication, 2015)
    • Inter-spacing vocalizations do occur
    • May defend feeding sources from other groups

Social Interactions

Social Interactions

  • Aggression
    • Not typically aggressive, based on observations of a close relative (Eulemur fulvus) (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Lack stylized behaviors known to occur in other primates
      • Though typically non-aggressive, encounters may lead to injury
    • Increased aggression when breeding (from AZA Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group 2013)
      • Female may charge, cuff, and chase a male attempting to investigate (sniff) her
        • Female hostility is particularly common when she is not yet in estrus, observation from managed care
      • Male may charge, cuff, and chase a female in estrus in an attempt to dominate her
    • Forms of aggression, based on observations of a close relative (Eulemur fulvus) (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Physical contact
        • Push and cuff (hit with the hands) one another
      • Lunge at and chase one another
  • Affiliative behaviors
    • Social greeting (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • No consistent or stylized gestures
        • Group members often encounter one another without either acknowledging the other
      • Sniff greeting, based on behavior of closely related species
        • One individual sniffs another’s nose or anogenital region
          • Adult males often sniff the anogenital regions of females
            • Females less commonly sniff this region in males
          • Infants are often sniffed by others
            • It is uncommon for infants to smell fellow group members
          • Mutual sniffing does occur
            • Nose-to-nose sniff greeting occurs frequently between animals of all age and sex classes, in managed care
      • Tactile greeting, based on behavior of closely related species
        • One individual approaches and touches another
          • Contact may be minimal, including sitting or standing in close proximity
          • May also include touching with the hand(s)
            • Initiator places a hand on another’s back or grasps it around the waist
          • “Hug”
            • Two lemurs stand side by side; each animal’s head aligns by the hindquarters of the other
            • The inside forearm drapes over the hip area of the partner
            • Partners often sniff, lick, and groom one another in this position
        • Often accompanied by contact grunts
    • Social thermoregulation (Donati et al. 2011b)
      • Groups members huddle together when cool
    • Social grooming
      • Allogrooming (one individual grooms another), mutual grooming (simultaneous activity), and reciprocal grooming (partners alternate) (from Vick and Conley 1976)
        • Lick and use the tooth comb to scrape through the hair
          • Toothcomb pulled upward through the hair
          • Hands hold sections being groomed; they do not part the hair
      • Frequency of behavior increases during the breeding season (AZA Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group 2013)
  • Group defense
    • Mob display (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Group members advance together toward a potential threat
        • Individuals approach with back arched up and the head and tail dropped low
          • Snout and tip of the stiffened tail point nearly straight down
          • May switch tail rapidly forward and back
        • One or more animals initiate a “mob call”
          • Call consists of two segments
            • Introductory segment 3-5 short (<0.5 seconds), high-pitched coughing grunts
              • Consecutive grunts rising in pitch from first to last
              • Mouth half-open and lips rounded
            • Progresses into a loud, high-pitched croaking sound
              • Lasts 3-5 seconds
              • Pitch and volume drops rapidly in the last 1-2 seconds of the call
          • Entire group vocalizes in precise synchrony
      • Behavior may last for long periods, in managed care
        • Observations of mobbing as long as 1 hour


  • Ages and sex classes (from Vick and Conley 1976)
    • All play, in managed care
  • Development of play (from Vick and Conley 1976)
    • Play begins in infancy, based on behavior of closely related species
      • Typically within close proximity of the mother’s body or other group members
      • Initial play is mainly locomotor exploration
      • Social play follows; begins at c. 2-3 months of age
  • Forms of play (from Vick and Conley 1976)
    • Locomotor and manipulative play
      • Climb, bound, and pounce
      • Pull, chew, and bite objects
    • Social play
      • Mock wrestling and biting
      • One animal may approach another and suddenly jump on it


  • Vocalization
    • Social contact grunts (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Coarse, low pitched bursts of guttural sound; description based on that of similar, closely related species
        • Pitch even from beginning to end
        • Duration c. 0.5 seconds
    • Choruses are mainly produced early in the morning or late in the afternoon, during periods of high activity or movement, when the animals are more likely to encounter other groups (G. Donati, personal communication)  
        • Group produces c. 10 calls/minute
        • Possibly given as a signal of social reassurance; to help integrate the group and maintain spatial cohesion during routine activity
    • Mob call (Vick and Conley 1976)
      • See "Group defense," above
    • Chatter vocalization (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Associated with aggressive interactions between collared lemurs
        • Given by an aggressor if his/her initial threat is reciprocated and a chase ensues
      • Series of high pitched, brief (<0.1 seconds) screams
        • Run together in a burst of sound lasting 2-3 seconds
          • At times producing a fricative tone
        • Mouth half-open
    • Cackle vocalization may be produced (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Call given by female Eulemur albifrons
      • Sound associated with threat behaviors
      • Similar to the chatter sound; of shorter duration (<1 second) and in a higher pitch
        • Call does not trail off
    • Squeak (from Vick and Conley 1976)
      • Sound of submission
        • Often given by animals targeted by aggressive behavior
      • High pitch, pure tone; volume variable
    • Click here for audio of some vocalizations; provided through the Macaulay Library, Cornell University
  • Olfaction/Scent Marking
    • Scent mark
      • Social marking, based on behavior of closely related species (from Vick and Conley 1976 unless otherwise noted)
        • Lemurs rub one another with their anogenital glands
          • Subadults mark less frequently in this manner
          • Rubbing often serves as a greeting
            • Sniffing often precedes such marking
          • Behavior of marking animal
            • Marking animal stands with its back towards the other individual
            • Body crouches forward onto the forelimbs, the hindquarters raised
            • Tail held up and out of the way while the marker rubs its hind-end onto the back and flanks of the other animal
            • Behavior may occur only once or be repeated several times
              • With repeated rubbing the marking animal often turns to sniff its partner between marks
        • Males may urinate on females during the reproductive season (AZA Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group 2013)
        • Adult, heterosexual marking most common
          • Adult males mark adult females more commonly than the reverse
      • Marking objects, based on behavior of closely related species (from Vick and Conley 1976)
        • Also rub the anogenital glands onto surfaces and objects
          • Males often place marks over those laid down by females
            • Males also rub their forehead and hands against the scent marks of females; chewing the surface may accompany such behavior
        • Behavior of marking animal
          • On a horizontal substrate, lemur may squat and drag the hind-end back and forth or sideways
          • On a vertical surface, lemur backs into object as it crouches onto its forelimbs with hindquarters raised; the animal drags its anogenital regions up and down on the surface
      • Marking frequency
        • Behavior increases during the breeding season (AZA Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group 2013)


  • Arboreal movements
    • Quadrupedal (from Vick and Conley 1976 unless otherwise noted)
      • Posture often vertical, based on descriptions of the closely related Eulemur albocollaris (Johnson 2006)
        • Head held erect
        • Vertebral column nearly parallel to the substrate
        • Tail curved and held high
          • Appears as a question mark
    • Primarily leap (Johnson 2006)

Interspecies Interactions

  • Predators
    • Avian predators
      • Diurnal raptors (from Donati et al. 2007a unless otherwise noted)
        • Madagascar Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides radiates), Henst’s Goshawk (Accipiter henstii), and Madagascar Buzzard (Buteo brachipterus) (Donati et al. 2007a,b; Karpanty 2006)
        • May influence foraging activity
          • Collared lemurs tend to feed in lower forest layers in daytime when raptors are active
          • Requires more study as other factors may more directly drive foraging behavior
    • Mammalian predators
      • Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) (Donati et al. 2007b)
  • Symbiotic relationships
    • Possible agent of seed dispersal (from Bollen et al. 2004)
      • Seeds consumed with fruits deposited in droppings
        • Long daily travel distances may enable long-distance distribution
      • Seeds dropped when eating
        • Species is a “messy” eater; swallows numerous seeds while dropping others under the parent plant
      • Appear particularly efficient at dispersing large-seeded plant species
        • The only potential animal disperser for fruiting plants with seeds up to 17 mm (0.7 in) in diameter, in Madagascar
    • Parasites
      • Intestinal nematodes; more prevalent among individuals living in disturbed habitat (Lazdane et al. 2014)

Collared lemurs

Collared lemurs at the Bronx zoo

Collared lemurs. Bronx Zoo, Madagascar Exhibit.  Image credit: © Fred Hsu at Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved

a collared lemur at the Bronx Zoo

Collared lemur. Bronx Zoo, Madagascar Exhibit.  Image credit: © Peter Radunzel at Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

AZA Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group (2013)
Bollen et al. (2004)
Campera et al. (2014)
Donati (2002)
Donati and Borgognini-Tarli (2006)
Donati et al. (2007a,b)
Donati et al. (2011a,b)
Johnson (2006)
Karpanty (2006)
Lazdane et al. (2014)
Vick and Conley (1976)

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