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Coquerel's Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common names

  • Sifaka and tsibahaka (Haring 2012; Mittermeier et al. 2010)
  • Etymology
    • Sifaka derived from threat display made by some (including Coquerel's) sifaka (Mittermeier et al. 2010)
      • Explosive, hiss-like "shee-faak" sound accompanies rapid, repetitive, backward jerking of the head

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Genus Propithecus from two Latin words, pro meaning "before" and pithecus meaning "ape" (Brown 1956)
    • Specific epithet coquereli named after a French surgeon and entomologist, Dr. Charles Coquerel (1822-1867), who was involved in collecting expeditions to Madagascar and its neighboring islands (Beolens et al. 2009)
  • Synonyms
    • Propithecus damonis (ITIS 2014)
    • Propithecus verreauxi coquereli (Andriaholinirina et al. 2014)

Evolutionary History

Lemur Orinins (from Hovarth et al. 2008)

  • 66.9-84.4 million years ago (Mya)
    • Split between lemurs and lorisiformes (lorises and pottos; small arboreal primates of Africa and Asia)
  • 50-80 Mya
    • Ancestral lemurs arrived to Madagascar; after separation of the island from other landmasses
      • Open ocean isolated Madagascar from Africa and India

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

  • Diverse group of primates
    • Account for > 15% of extant (living) primate diversity (Hovarth et al. 2008)
    • Lemuriform lineages all descended from a single common ancestor (Hovarth et al. 2008; Yoder and Yang 2004)
  • 5 major (lemuriform) lineages (from Hovarth et al. 2008; Yoder and Yang 2004)
    • Daubentoniidae: represented by the aye-aye; 1 extant species, 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 unless otherwise noted)
    • Daubentonia ancestors arose early in lemur evolution (Hovarth et al. 2008; Yoder and Yang 2004)
    • 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 Indriidae (from Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Fossil record minimal
    • Oldest fossils date to c. 2000 years; representative of still living species

Genus Propithecus

  • 3.78-9.12 Mya
    • Divergence began within the genus (Hovarth et al. 2008)

Cultural History

Malagasy folklore and mythology (from Mittermeier et al. 2013)

  • Sifakas (spp) formerly considered "sacred sun worshippers"
    • Possibly due to their pattern of basking in the sun during the dry season (see Activity Cycle)
  • Thought to possess medical knowledge
    • People believed sifakas (spp) covered wounds with special leaves to promote healing

Popular culture resources

  • Documentary appearances
    • Island of Lemurs: Madagascar - 2014 IMAX film released by Warner Brothers/IMAX, narrated by Morgan Freeman; follows Dr. Patricia C. Wright's mission to help lemurs
    • In the Wild: Lemurs with John Cleese - 1999 Tigress Production; a humorous and adventurous look into the lives of various lemur species


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Suborder: Strepsirrhini

Family: Indriidae

Genus: Propithecus

Species: Propithecus coquereli - Coquerel's sifaka

(ITIS 2014)

Portrait of Coquerel's sifaka

a sifaka painting

Many depictions of Coquerel's sifaka have appeared in natural history texts since the late 1800s.

The first written description of Propithecus (likely P. verreauxi) was made by Ettienne de Flacourt, who spent nearly two decades (1648-1665) at Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar.

Image credit: Plate from the 1875 text, Histoire Physique, Naturelle et Politique de Madagascar, by Alfred Grandidier. Image within the public domain in the European Union and U.S.

Page Citations

Andriaholinirina et al. (2014)
Beolens et al. (2009)
Brown (1956)
Haring (2012)
Hovarth et al. (2008)
ITIS (2014)
Mittermeier et al. (2010)
Mittermeier et al. (2013)
Yoder and Yang (2004)

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