Milne Edwardss sifaka

Propithecus edwardsi

SUBFAMILY

Indriinae

TAXONOMY

Propithecus edwardsi (A. Grandidier, 1871), Madagascar.

OTHER COMMON NAMES Malagasy: Simpona, simpony.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The face is reduced and the muzzle is shortened. Adult females and males do not show differences in weight, canine size, or coloration. Long legs, broad hands and feet, and a vertical clinging and leaping locomotion characterize sifakas. The tail is about the same length as the body. The tooth comb is used for grooming fur by both males and females. Milne-Edwards's sifakas are black with a whitish beige back saddle patch. Sifaka noses are broad, black, and not furred. Sifaka eye color ranges from amber to orange to brown. The tail is the same length and color as the body.

DISTRIBUTION

Milne-Edwards's sifakas are found in southeastern mountain rainforests in Madagascar from Pic Ivohibe in the south until Kiriasy, south of the Onive River. This species is not seen on the coast or in elevations less than 1,310 ft (400 m). Although abundant in Ranomafana National Park, it is rare at Andingitra National Park and very rare in forests north of Ranomafana National Park.

HABITAT

Primary and secondary moist, humid forests in elevations higher than 1,310 ft (400 m).

BEHAVIOR

Diurnal. It lives in groups of 3-9, composed of multi-male, multi-female, one-male, or one-female. Females are dominant to males in both feeding and social situations. The group sleep huddled together on a broad horizontal branch about 49-82 ft (15-25 m) high off the ground. If the group is large, paired individuals sleep in nearby trees. The same sleep trees are used over time, but usually not on consecutive nights. During the day the family spends over 45% of the day in close contact, grooming or resting. Feeding occupies about one-third of their time, with 15% of time traveling. In contrast to indris, sifakas do not give daily long calls. Milne-Edwards's sifakas have over seven discrete calls. Lost individuals give long, warbling whistles that are answered by group members. Quieter contact moos are given among group members to indicate position and propose group movement. Alarm calls alerting for aerial predators are loud, raucous barking by all group members. Often males first sight a hawk or eagle, give the alarm bark, and the females and infants drop to the ground for protection. In contrast, a short staccato "zusss" call warns the group of proximity of terrestrial predators. Sifaka males have chest glands that secrete scent, and are used to scent mark over the anogenital marks that females rub on vertical tree trunks. He also urinates over her mark. Scent marking by both males and females occurs year round, and may indicate territorial marking. Frenzied scent marking bouts indicate that the breeding season is near.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Milne-Edwards's sifakas primarily eat vegetation including young leaves from trees and vines and seeds from fleshy fruits. Flowers, fruit pulp, mature leaves, and soil are also consumed regularly. Homopteran insects are consumed by Milne-Edwards's sifakas in December. Sifaka individuals often eat 25-30 plant species per day, and over 150 plant species within a year.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Milne-Edwards's sifakas live in monogamous pairs, harems, multi-male, multi-female groups and in polyandrous groups. Breeding is seasonal, and males' testicles begin to expand three months before the mating in December to January. During estrus the female's vulva becomes swollen and pink. Milne-Edwards' sifakas mate 3-4 times within a 10-hour period with the male mounting the female from the back. Females may mate with one or more males in the group. The gestation period is six months, and infants are born in May or June. One infant is born per mother on average every second year. Newborn infants weigh about 4.4 oz (125 g) and are 0.2% of the weight of the mother. The infant clings ventrally to the mother for the first four weeks and then rides on her back for five months. Males help transport older infants about 10% of the time, and defend the group against attacks by large raptors. Females are dominant in feeding and social situations. Infant mortality is high (over 50%).

CONSERVATION STATUS

Endangered.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

In the Ranomafana region it is fady (taboo) to eat sifakas because they resemble humans. ♦

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