Red-fronted lemur (Eulemur rufifrons)

Also known as: Bennett’s brown lemur, red-fronted brown lemur
Synonyms: Eulemur fulvus rufus, Eulemur rufus
GenusEulemur (1)
SizeHead-body length: 35 - 48 cm (2)
Tail length: 45 - 55 cm (2)
Weight2 - 2.8 kg (2)

The red-fronted lemur is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

A medium-sized lemur with a long tail, the red-fronted lemur (Eulemur rufifrons) differs in appearance between the sexes (2). Although the male and female do not differ in size (4) (5), the male red-fronted lemur exhibits a grey to grey-brown coat with a bushy reddish-brown crown on the head, while the female has a reddish-brown coat and a dark crown. Both sexes have paler underparts, white patches above the eyes, and a black muzzle, often with a dark line extending up onto the crown (2) (6) (7).

The ears of the red-fronted lemur are not prominent, and its eyes are usually orange-red (2). All infant red-fronted lemurs show male colouration for the first three to four months of life (5).

Until recently, the red-fronted lemur was considered to be a secondary name for the red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufus) (1) (8), which was itself previously considered to be a subspecies of the brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus) (1). However, evidence now strongly suggests that the red-fronted lemur is a distinct species (1) (8).

Like all lemurs, the red-fronted lemur is endemic to Madagascar (1), where it occurs in the central western and south-eastern parts of the country (5).

Following the classification of the red-fronted lemur as a species in its own right, populations south of the Tsiribihina River, south to at least the Fiherenana River, are now considered to be red-fronted lemurs,while populations to the north of the river are known as red-fronted brown lemurs (E. rufus) (1) (6).

In the east, the limits of the red-fronted lemur’s distribution are less well known, but it is thought to occur from the Onive and Mangoro Rivers south to the Andringitra Massif, with the southern limit of its range thought to be the Manampatra River (1). Beyond this there is a large hybrid zone between red-fronted lemurs and white-collared brown lemurs (Eulemur cinereiceps) (1) (6).

In the east of its range, the red-fronted lemur is found in moist lowland and montane forest, while in the west it occurs in dry tropical forest (1).

Like most ‘true lemurs’ (Eulemur species), the red-fronted lemur is cathemeral (2) (8). This species eats mostly fruits, but has also been known to feed on leaves, bark, insects and other invertebrates (2) (7). In some areas, it may be an important seed disperser (2) (7). Predators of the red-fronted lemur are likely to include the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) and large raptors (2).

The red-fronted lemur is arboreal and travels primarily in the upper canopy (9), typically moving through the trees on all fours (2) (8). It is a social species, living in groups of 4 to 18 individuals (1) (7) which include several adults of both sexes (5).

Red-fronted lemurs can have large home ranges of over 100 hectares (1) (9), and use a range of calls to stay in touch while on the move (2) (7).

Reproduction in the red-fronted lemur is highly seasonal, with mating occurring in May and June and a single infant being born between September and October (1) (2) (7), after a gestation period of about 120 days (2) (7). The young red-fronted lemur is initially carried on the female’s belly, but after the first month or so is able to start moving about and is transferred to the female’s back (2). The young of this species are usually weaned by about January (1).

Although female red-fronted lemurs generally stay with their family group, or are sometimes forcibly evicted from large groups, males disperse from the group on reaching sexual maturity (4) (5). The red-fronted lemur usually reaches sexual maturity at two to three years old (2) (7) and may potentially live for up to 25 years in the wild (7).

The principle threat to the red-fronted lemur is habitat loss resulting from the local practice of ‘tavy’ (cutting and burning vegetation to create arable land), as well as from habitat clearance for pastures, fuelwood and illegal logging (1) (10). In the southeast of Madagascar an estimated 1.5 percent of rainforest is destroyed annually, which could lead to the loss of the entire forest by 2020 (10).

Fortunately, the red-fronted lemur is quite widely distributed in Madagascar and is not currently considered to be in immediate danger (7) (10). However, its populations are believed to have reduced by 20 to 25 percent in the past 24 years, primarily due to declining habitat area and quality, along with ongoing hunting and trapping (1).

The red-fronted lemur currently occurs in at least ten protected areas in Madagascar (7), including Isalo, Ranomafana, Zombitse, Vohibasia and Andringitra National Parks and Andranomena and Pic d’Ivohibe Special Reserves (1). This species is also listed (as Eulemur rufus) on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans international trade in the red-fronted lemur (3).

Over the past 20 years, Madagascan conservation has seen substantial advances including policy reform, reduction of deforestation rates and the creation of new protected areas. Sadly, despite these advances, the country’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate (11).

Find out more about lemur conservation:

More information on conservation in Madagascar:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. Garbutt, N. (2007) Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  3. CITES (March, 2012)
  4. Ostner, J. and Kappeler, P.M. (2004) Male life history and the unusual adult sex ratios of redfronted lemur, Eulemur fulvus rufus, groups. Animal Behaviour, 67: 249-259.
  5. Kappeler, P.M. and Fichtel, C. (2012) Female reproductive competition in Eulemur rufifrons: eviction and reproductive restraint in a plurally breeding Malagasy primate. Molecular Ecology, 21: 685-698.
  6. Delmore, K.E., Louis Jr., E.E. and Johnson, S.E. (2011) Morphological characterization of a brown lemur hybrid zone (Eulemur rufifrons x E. cinereiceps). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 145(1): 55-66.
  7. Duke Lemur Center- Red fronted lemur (October, 2011)
  8. Mittermeier, R.A., Ganzhorn, J.U., Konstant, W.R., Glander, K., Tattersall, I., Groves, C.P., Rylands, A.B., Hapke, A., Ratsimbazafy, J., Mayor, M.I., Louis Jr., E.E., Rumpler, Y., Schwitzer, C. and Rasoloarison, R.M. (2008) Lemur diversity in Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 29(6): 1607-1656.
  9. Gould, L. and Overdorff, D.J. (2002) Adult male scent-marking in Lemur catta and Eulemur fulvus rufus. International Journal of Primatology, 23(3): 575-586.
  10. Irwin, M.T., Johnson, S.E. and Wright, P.C. (2005) The state of lemur conservation in south-eastern Madagascar: population and habitat assessments for diurnal and cathemeral lemurs using surveys, satellite imagery and GIS. Oryx, 39(2): 204-218.
  11. Ferguson, B. and Gardner, C.J. (2010) Looking back and thinking ahead - where next for conservation in Madagascar? Madagascar Conservation and Development, 5(2): 75-76.