Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Coquerel's Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Diurnal (active in daylight) (Petter 1962)

Daily activity patterns (from Richard 1974 unless otherwise noted)

  • Seasonally variable patterns
    • Wet season activity
      • Initiate activity well before sunrise
      • Feed almost continuously through mid-morning
      • Rest and sleep in trees until mid-afternoon
        • Sit; knees pulled tightly to chest as hindfeet cling to a limb for stability; hands rest on the knees, tail rolled into a spiral between the legs (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
        • Cling vertically; chest pressed against a limb, hand and feet grasping on either side (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
      • May resume feeding and foraging after sunset
      • Sleep in trees
        • Typically "early to bed"; return to sleep before sunset (D Haring personal communication)
    • In dry season
      • Initiate activity 1-2 hours after sunrise; move to stations high in trees where exposed to the sun
      • Bask in sun c.1 hour or more
        • Sit in tree crowns, facing east with upraised arms (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
      • Travel follows "sunning"
      • Feed almost continuously until early afternoon
      • End activity near mid-day; take up positions in the forks of trees to sleep

Daily movement (from Richard 1974; Richard 1978 unless otherwise noted)

  • Travel c.800-1,600 m (0.5-1 mi) per day
    • Interrupted frequently with breaks for feeding
      • Typically pause one of more times before covering 50 m (c. 164 ft)
      • Long distance travel rarely completed as a single uninterrupted stretch; except when in flight
  • Seasonal variation in travel distance
    • Cover greater distances in wet season compared to the dry season

Territory/Home Range Size

Inhabit areas >10 ha (0.4 mi2) (Richard 1978)

  • Intensive use of smaller pockets within the broader territory is common

Territorial overlap extensive (Richard 1974)

Density (from Kun-Rodrigues et al. 2014)

  • Estimates variable
    • 5-93 individuals/km2 (c. 13-241 individuals/mi2) in Ankarafantsika National Park
    • Density and numbers likely declining
      • c. 90% decline in density at Ampijoroa within the past 30 years

Social Groups

Social animals (from Richard 1974 unless otherwise noted)

  • Live in small mixed-gender groups(Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • Composed of mutually familiar individuals
    • Not a reproductive or "family" unit
  • Group interactions
    • Infrequent, even though members often move, feed, and rest for extensive periods in close proximity
    • In captivity, individuals interact fairly regularly (D Haring personal communication)
      • Exchanges typically of low level intensity
      • Members often look around at one another and make quiet grunting noises

Social dominance (from Richard 1974 unless otherwise noted)

  • Feeding hierarchy
    • Dominant individuals receive preferential access to food
    • Rank not gender-specific, in the wild
      • In captivity, females are dominant; the oldest breeding female dominates other group members (D Haring personal communication)
  • Determinants of rank
    • No apparent relationship between social rank and aggression, social grooming, or access to mates

Group size

  • Typically group size
    • c. 2-5 individuals (Kun-Rodrigues et al. 2014)
  • Range
    • 3-10 individuals (Richard 1974; Mittermeier et al. 2013)

Territorial Behavior

Seldom confrontational (from Richard 1974 unless otherwise noted)

  • Groups often avoid one another
  • Fights
    • Not associated with territorial borders
  • Territoriality in captivity (from D Haring personal communication)
    • Groups housed in adjacent enclosures are watchful of one another when in close proximity
    • Dominant females may hop up-and-down and chase one another along the fenceline

Territorial travel (from Richard 1974; Richard 1978)

  • Visits to territorial regions
    • Cover most regions within territory every 10-20 days
    • No regular cycle of movement through territory

Social Interactions

Aggression

  • Minimal outside mating season (Richard 1974)
    • Most frequently associated with access to food
    • Aggressive acts by mothers in defense of young are common
      • Attempts to handle an infant often met with slaps and bites from the mother
  • Physical contact uncommon (Petter 1962)
    • Injuries common on the ears of males > 2 years of age
  • Threaten (Richard and Heimbuch 1975)
    • Submissive recipients of threats often display characteristic behaviors and are displaced
      • Bare teeth, lips tightly drawn back
      • Tuck tail between hind legs, back hunched
  • Bite (Richard and Heimbuch 1975)
    • Neck scruff and tail often receive hard, painful bites
  • Hit/cuff (Richard and Heimbuch 1975)
    • Hands strike opponents on the back of the neck or limb extremities
    • "Cough" or "hack" vocalization often accompanies strikes

Affiliative behaviors (from Richard and Heimbuch 1975 unless otherwise noted)

  • Allo-grooming (one individual grooms another)
    • Common activity among group members
      • Not typically mutual; only 30% of allo-grooming was reciprocal in one study
      • Occurs most often during periods of rest
    • Groom arms, head, face, back, and shoulders; typically those areas inaccessible for self-grooming
      • Lick and comb hair (with toothcomb)
      • Groomer often clamps hands over the muzzle of the recipient when cleaning the head
    • Requests for grooming characterized by "presenting" behavior
      • Arm held toward the prospective groomer
  • Huddle to sleep on cold nights (Richard 1974)
    • Members line up, single-file along a branch, and cuddle the animal in front of them (D Haring personal communication)
      • Reminiscent of people on a toboggan
  • Nose-touching
    • Form of social greeting, uncommonly observed (Richard and Heimbuch 1975)
    • Individuals approach one another and briefly touch noses together before moving apart (Richard and Heimbuch 1975)

Play (from Richard and Heimbuch 1975)

  • Participants
    • Most frequently subadults and juveniles
    • Adult occasionally join play of younger group members
  • Location and timing of play
    • Most frequently on or near the ground (within 2 m or 6.6 ft)
      • c. 27% of all bouts take place in trees at heights above 2 m
    • Common activity during the wet season; not observed in the dry season, one study
    • Initiated at the beginning and end or feeding and rest periods
  • Forms of play
    • Wrestle
      • 2-3 individuals hang from a horizontal support; often by their arms or legs alone
      • Opponents attempt to dislodge one another
    • Chase
      • On the ground after wrestling
      • Often culminates with the loser lying on his back; the winner repeatedly jumping onto him

Communication

Vocalization (from Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Limited vocal repertoire
  • Alarm calls
    • "Shi-fakh, shi-fakh, shi-fakh"; loud, penetrating, nasal call
      • Explosive, hiss-like sound
      • Entire group simultaneously emits call
      • Often accompanies head jerking
        • Head rapidly jerked backward and forward, several times in succession
    • "Hum" and "mum"
      • Most frequent vocalization
      • Low-amplitude, low-frequency, and tonal
    • Aerial roar
      • Open-mouthed, broadband call
      • Directed overhead to raptors or other aerial disturbances

Olfaction/Scent Marking (from Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Anogenital gland secretions
    • Spray onto tree trunks
      • Sometimes followed by urination
    • Rhythmically rub the anogenital glands against tree trunks
  • Gender specific behavior
    • Males
      • Rub the neck and chest on tree trunks (Petter 1962)
      • Often gouge trees with teeth prior to marking (Petter 1962)
      • Increase marking frequency during the mating season (Richard 1974)

Locomotion

Leap (from Demes et al. 1996; Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Through trees
    • Bound from trunk to trunk (Petter 1962)
  • Take off with back facing destination
    • Body held upright throughout the jump (Petter 1962)
    • Look over the shoulder at the landing-tree
    • Legs propel movement upward and outward (Mittermeier et al. 2010)
      • Jump 10-12 m (33-39 ft) across open spans in the forest (Demes et al. 1996; Mittermeier et al. 2013; Napier and Walker 1967)
  • Land facing forward
    • Turn 180o, in mid-air, shortly after launch
      • Forearms and tail adjust position through the air
    • Hindlimbs first, toes grasping for support

Hop and bound (from Petter 1962 unless otherwise noted)

  • Bipedally on the ground (Mittermeier et al. 2010; Petter 1962)
    • Cover several meters in each hop (> 10 ft) (Mittermeier et al. 2013)
    • Uncommon form of travel; accounts for < 2 % of activity (Richard 1974)
  • Body remains vertical
    • Forward faced position (Mittermeier et al. 2010)
    • Elevate arms, hands near shoulder height
  • Click here for a brief video (footage of the closely related Verreaux's sifaka)

Climb (from Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Slowly scale vertical trunks
    • Hand-over-hand movement
  • Awkwardly descend, tail first
    • Tail not used for balance in descent (Petter 1962)

Social Groups

two sifakas in a tree

Mixed gender groups associate throughout the day and night. Numbers range from 3-10 individuals.

Image credit: © F Vassen from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Locomotion

a sifaka leaping along the ground

Sifakas do not walk; instead, they hop along the forest floor. Powerful legs are capable of propelling an individual over 10 feet in a single bound.

Image credit: © C Sharp from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Slow Motion Locomotion

© San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Demes et al. (1996)
Kun-Rodrigues et al. (2014)
Mittermeier et al. (2010)
Mittermeier et al. (2013)
Napier and Walker (1967)
Petter (1962)
Richard (1974)
Richard (1978)
Richard and Heimbuch (1975)

SDZG Library Links