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Blue-eyed Black Lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common name (from Andriaholinirina et al. 2014; ITIS 2015)

  • Blue-eyed black lemur
  • Sclater’s black lemur or Sclater’s lemur
    • Named for P.L. Sclater (1829-1913), founder of the Ibis journal and secretary of the Zoological Society of London from 1860-1903 (Beolens et al. 2009)
      • Published the second description of the species based on a male (black) specimen
  • Etymology
    • Blue-eyed black lemur named for distinctive appearance of males (from Mittermeier et al. 2010)
      • One of only a few primate species with blue eyes
      • Males nearly completely black in appearance; females reddish-tan to reddish-gray

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Genus Eulemur referring to true lemurs
      • Eu from Greek meaning “true” (Brown 1956)
    • Specific epithet flavifrons from two Latin words flavus meaning “yellowish” and frons meaning “brow or forehead” (Brown 1956)
      • Name references the appearance of females
      • Female specimen was the first described member of this species
  • Synonyms (from ITIS 2015)
    • Lemur nigerrimus
    • Lemur flavifrons (Gray 1867)
    • Eulemur macaco flavifrons
      • Considered by some taxonomists to be a subspecies of the Black Lemur

Evolutionary History

Lemur origins

  • Lemur divergence
    • Split of lemurs and lorisiformes (lorises and pottos; small arboreal primates of Africa and Asia) (Hovarth et al. 2008)
      • 66.9-84.4 million years ago (Mya)
  • Malagasy lemurs
    • Ancestral lemurs arrive on Madagascar; after separation of the island from other landmasses (Hovarth et al. 2008)
      • Open ocean isolates Madagascar from Africa and India
      • 50-80 Mya: ancestral lemurs arrive on Madagascar; after separation of the island from other landmasses (Hovarth et al. 2008)

Malagasy lemur diversity and divergence (from Mittermeier et al. 2010 unless otherwise noted)

  • Diversity
    • Account for > 15% of extant (living) primate diversity (Hovarth et al. 2008)
      • 5 major (lemuriform) lineages; all descended from a single common ancestor (Hovarth et al. 2008; Yoder and Yang 2004)
        • Daubentoniidae: represented by the aye-aye; 1 genus
        • Indriidae: indris, sifakas, and their relatives; 19 species in 3 genera
        • Lepilemuridae: sportive lemurs; 26 species in 1 genus
        • Cheirogaleidae: dwarf and mouse lemurs; 30 species in 5 genera
        • Lemuridae: true and bamboo lemurs; 25 species in 5 genera
  • Origin estimates for major lineages (from Hovarth et al. 2008)
    • Daubentonia ancestors arise early in lemur evolution
    • Indriidae diverged c. 30.33-42.4 Mya, followed by Lepilemuridae c. 18.62-29.05 Mya
    • Lemuridae and Cheirogaleidae began to diversify around the same time
      • c. 18.6-29 Mya

Family Lemuridae (from Schwitzer et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • “Best-known” and most widespread family of lemur
  • 5 genera (extant); divided into two groupings
    • Bamboo lemurs; specialized bamboo diet
      • Hapalemur
      • Prolemur
    • True lemurs; diet largely fruit
      • Lemur
      • Varecia
      • Eulemur

Genus Eulemur

  • Sister group of genus Lemur (Hovarth et al. 2008; Yoder and Yang 2004)
    • Estimated divergence time
      • c. 6.6-14.6 Mya (Yoder and Yang 2004)
      • c. 15.43-24.53 Mya (Hovarth et al. 2008)
    • Last common ancestor with Varecia near the Oligocene/Miocene boundary (Hovarth et al. 2008)
      • c. 26.4-35.9 Mya (Yoder and Yang 2004)
      • c. 18.62-29.05 Mya (Hovarth et al. 2008)
  • Modern species diversified within the past 11.5 million years (Hovarth et al. 2008)

Eulemur flavifrons

  • Closest living relative (from Hovarth et al. 2008)
    • Eulemur macaco (the black lemur)
    • Estimated divergence c. 0.75-2.73 Mya

Cultural History

Early confusion and rediscovery (from Volampeno 2009)

  • History of species confusion
    • Pronounced sexual dimorphism led early European describers (late 1800s) to assign male and female to separate species
      • Male as L. nigerrimus
      • Female as L. flavifrons
  • No scientific reports or publications on the animal appear again until the 1980s
    • The blue-eyed black lemur was therefore considered a mythical animal
    • Rediscovery of the species followed joint French and Malagasy expeditions in 1983 and 1984


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Suborder: Strepsirrhini

Family: Lemuridae

Genus: Eulemur (Simons and Rumpler, 1988)

Species: Eulemur flavifrons (Gray, 1867) — blue-eyed black lemur

Sources: Integrated Taxonomic Information System (2015)

Page Citations

Andriaholinirina et al. (2014)
Beolens et al. (2009)
Brown (1956)
Hovarth et al. (2008)
ITIS (2015)
Mittermeier et al. (2010)
Schwitzer et al. (2013)
Volampeno (2009)
Yoder and Yang (2004)

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